Tag Archives: Thriller

Amazon Prime’s Tell Me Your Secrets- Season 1

Few films or shows are able to impart just how complex and capable of contradictory behaviour, light and darkness and moral ambiguity human beings are, but Harriet Warner’s Tell Me Your Secrets gets it and is a sensational showstopper, deep psychological imbroglio of disturbing deeds, poetically serendipitous plot turns, emotionally devastating character work, evocative southern gothic atmosphere and petrifying suspense. Originally shot in 2018 for TNT and subsequently abandoned by the network, Amazon has made an intuitively excellent choice in rescuing it from the scrap heap because based on the first season alone, it’s already looking like one for the books. The story, although deeply complex and labyrinthine, is actually fairly easy to get a handle on: Karen Miller (Lily Rabe) was once the girlfriend of vicious serial killer Kit (Xavier Samuel) who murdered nine women with a claw hammer, and kept his crimes secret from her. When it all came out, as it always does, he ends up on death row, she ends up in Witness Protection in Louisiana far from him and things smooth over, save for those loose ends which always seem to find their way back. One of those is grieving mother Mary (Amy Brenneman) whose missing daughter was once spotted in the vicinity of Kit, so she naturally assumes he must have been the one who took her. She is relentless to the point of recklessness and self destruction in this belief, going as far as to hire recently ‘reformed’ serial rapist John Tyler (Hamish Linklater) to dredge up his long dormant predator’s instincts and track Karen down, wherever the program has relocated her in hopes of any usable intel. Got that? Doesn’t matter, the show uses a crisp, well versed and fluid vernacular to tell this tale that has a lot of moving parts, tricky bends in the road and thunderclap revelations, it’s gripping, succinct, uncommonly intelligent work. Lily Rabe is an actress that I immediately connect/mesh with in the sacred viewer/performer symbiosis, I love her work in American Horror Story and since then have been hoping for her to get a truly showcase part.. this is it. She always seems to be one thousand percent actively engaged in the scene, always has the intensity turned up past eleven on the dial but always *owns* that choice and makes it feel earned. Karen is a girl in an impossibly rough life situation, handed cards no one should have to play. Her character arc is a thing of beauty as we slowly see what type of person she is, the choices she’s made and what she’s trying to do to shape her future, and the committed, finely tuned yet organic performance behind that from Lily radiates forth and reflects it all. Brenneman works wonders with a tricky character that you’ll want to hate but she’s been through a ton of trauma too and while it doesn’t excuse her overall course of actions within the moral quagmire of a narrative, I understood why she was the way she was, without judgment or endorsement. Liklater is just about as scary as one can get in a role like this and I’d imagine about as close to the mark in portraying a sicko perv rapist sociopath lunatic as one might get. He’s amiable, soft spoken, charismatic, strikingly remorseful and pleasantly chatty… until the true nature comes out. It’s a diabolical acting creation and I’m not familiar with his work before this but he’s squarely on my sonar now. This is deep, dark, distressing storytelling and at times the story is so disturbing, suspenseful and asks so much mental engagement and empathy from the viewer it can be quite an endeavour to take on, but the rewards to an avid participant and those who hunger for challenging content that lingers in your thoughts and dreams long after are superabundant. The principal leads anchor a three point triangle of psychologically, emotionally harrowing but somehow cathartic and almost Shakespearean level karmic epiphanies, backed up by a brilliant supporting cast, a tangled bayou of secondary narratives and chilling sideshow mysteries embroiled into the gumbo of our main tangent, an impressively eerie score that hovers along almost sub-audibly on the fringes of awareness and overall every aspect of this wonderful, fearsome, engrossing story shines bright out of the dark. Please, please let’s have many more seasons.

-Nate Hill

Wolfen

Many werewolf films take place in the woods, mountains or various other rugged and elemental vistas that are inherently threatening and suit the mythos. But what about the urban jungle? How many werewolf films can you think of that place their action in a big city? Wolfen is one that does this and as such stands out in the genre for being a moody, eerie inner city horror about a gruff, unfriendly NYC police detective (Albert Finney) chasing down mysterious murderous hoodlums who he soon realizes are some kind of lycanthropic shapeshifters straight out of a Native legend. This leads him on a hushed yet bloody and quite atmospheric hunt through some of New York’s shadiest areas, made all the more spooky by the presence of these ferocious and quite stealthy cryptid hybrids. He’s helped and hindered by many in one eclectic cast that includes Diane Venora, James Tolkan, Rino Thunder, Edward James Olmos, Gregory Hines as a slick streetwise colleague, a very drunk and very brief Tom Waits and Tom Noonan as an ill fated ‘expert.’ This isn’t a very loud, snazzy or schlocky horror flick and in fact if memory serves it’s more of a mood piece type thing than any sort of thriller or shocker. Finney is sombre, muted, hard to read and even vaguely menacing, while the cast around him are sly, eccentric and always seem like they know more than they’re letting on. The werewolf attacks are hazy, dreamlike and terrifying in an otherworldly sort of way while still retaining enough gore and gristle, the special effects for the creatures themselves wonderful and the use of real wolves (or dogs, perhaps) adds to the earthen, folky aura that collides fascinatingly with this urban aesthetic. It’s been a long time since I’ve seen this (a rewatch is no doubt imminent) and I can’t recall everything except that it’s one strikingly distinctive, unique and very immersive big city horror cop flick amalgamation that is well worth checking out.

-Nate Hill

John Carpenter’s Vampires

I think that seeing Daniel Baldwin yank vampires out of a boarded up hideout into the sunlight with a steel cable pulley winch mounted to his truck to get torched to death is one of the most satisfying scenarios in John Carpenter’s Vampires, and maybe the vampire genre overall. This is an amazingly fun, super imaginative, down n’ dirty vampire western in the tradition of stuff like From Dusk Till Dawn where the vamps are fearsome beasts, those who hunt and kill them are profane, volatile outsiders and the overall tone is the opposite of what you’d call subtle, an aesthetic I love. James Woods is Jack Crow, a vampire slaying guru who works as freelance mercenary for the Vatican along with his second in command Montoya (Baldwin) and a host of other badasses who all hilariously get killed off in the opening scenes of the film as nasty vamp kingpin Valek (Thomas Ian Griffith) raids their motel party and leaves everyone dead save for Jack, Montoya and ill fated hooker Katrina (Sheryl Lee) who has been bit and shares a handy psychic link with Valek but is also a time bomb now that she’ll turn soon. It’s basically the big opening shootout and then a series of dusty, bloody extended chase sequences across the southwest with Jack and Montoya shouting at each other, Katrina looking progressively more sinister and Valek flying around like a literal bat out of hell trying to bite them, and I loved spending time with these characters. The Vatican’s cantankerous top dog (Maximillian Schell) dispatches a twitchy rookie priest (Tim Guinee) to assist Jack but he mostly gets in the way and serves as cannon fodder for his offbeat sense of humour and strikingly unchecked rage issues. Carpenter’s score is a departure from his synthy super sonic work and has this twangy, grinding western vibe that I really liked as well. The film is loud, gory and pretty hectic but it somehow also manages to feel laid back and easygoing, with Lee stealing the show, Woods doing his blustery asshole shtick to a tee and Baldwin being pretty badass for a Baldwin that isn’t, ya know, Alec. Good times.

-Nate Hill

The Boy

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.

-Nate Hill

Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans

I feel like the Underworld films don’t get proper credit for just how visually magnificent and stylistically sumptuous they are. I mean sure the stories are often a muddle of faux Shakespearean shifting alliances and paranormal melodrama that are impossible to decipher but if you just approach them overall as the story of an ongoing war between vampires and werewolves with lots of preening politics, an abundance of beautifully gory, darkly balletic action sequences and the occasional splash of forbidden romance then you’re good, and don’t need to engage the brain much further. Take Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans, for example, which best I could figure is some kind of prequel to the first film where we see what went down between the two species hundreds of years before. Bill Nighy gives the word overacting new meaning here but is a lot of fun as Viktor, king of the vampire nation who has effectively enslaved all the werewolves for his own work/war effort and forces them to hunt down their own kind who rebel. His daughter Sonja (Rhona Mitra) does some rebelling of her own by constantly defying daddy’s orders and carrying out a secret romance with Lycan leader Lucian (Michael Sheen). This overall unrest leads to the werewolf uprising and eventual incursion that will start a centuries long war. That’s all you need for story, trust me. What works best about this film is the resplendently beautiful production design and what makes it stand out in the initial trilogy is that it’s set far in the past so the uproarious gunfights become ruthless swordplay, the nocturnal urban atmosphere becomes a moonlit medieval castle aesthetic and never before has the franchise felt this gothic. Mitra is a beauty and then some, and while she’s not quite as lithe or physically distinctive as Beckinsale and her leather trench coat, she suits the ancient warrior aesthetic and does the Underworld name proud. Nighy is so far over the top I wanted him to calm down a bit before he had a stroke or something, he’s about as arch and theatrical as it gets but it suits the role and tone of the film nicely. Much of the film is sound, fury, blood and metal under inky black moonlight and some may have trouble deciphering the specifics of choreography under such a dim cloak of a visual palette but trust me it’s all there and it’s all *very* well done. This franchise has some of the most gorgeous, anatomically and aesthetically satisfying werewolves I’ve personally seen in horror, just great big bastards that look like they could rip a cow in half and are deadly in their speed, physicality and agility despite their hefty size. The Vamps have this eerie aristocracy to them and always seem calmly observant and deviously in charge, with help from the iridescent, creepy contact lenses the actors get to wear. The fight scenes are brutal and relentless, packed with gore and stylish weaponry and staged against spatially striking castle, river, forest and mountain vistas. There’s a shamelessly lurid sex scene between Sonja and Lucian where they’re literally writhing in slow motion on the edge of an impossibly baroque cliffside that is quite possibly one of the most arousing, breathtaking sex scenes I’ve ever seen on film. Say what you want about these movies man, and maybe I’m just a whore for visually stimulating horror films and am too generous on the ones that rely on the style over substance play, which is quite possibly the case, and I own that. However, I’m sitting there watching all of this play out and I’m in raptures about it, totally and completely entertained and pleased in my experience, and if that be the case, well I’m more than okay with all style and little substance, provided the style is as bounteous and well crafted as is the case here. *Great* looking film, if not a great one overall.

-Nate Hill

Daryl Duke’s The Silent Partner

If you think Billy Bob Thornton was a Bad Santa wait until you see Christopher Plummer in The Silent Partner, he gives him a run for his money and then some as a psychopathic, profoundly evil criminal who hits a Toronto bank for all its worth disguised as the local mall Santa. Only problem is, shrewd bank teller Elliot Gould realizes he’s going to do it while he’s still casing the joint, steals all the cash for himself minutes before the hit, and thinks he’s got away with it. Plummer is also a smart dude here and not the kind of fellow you want to pull a stunt like that on, soon he comes around looking for the money he believes to rightfully be his and so ensues a vicious game of cat, mouse and morally bankrupt working professional as these two individuals, one not particularly likeable and the other downright abhorrent, battle each other for the prize. Two girls are involved with both of them, confused fellow bank teller Susannah York and French Canadian femme fatale Céline Lolez but they end up being more collateral damage in the narrative than anything else. So… this film has a huge cult following, glowing reputation and overall hype surrounding it and I wish I could fully get onboard with that, but I just wasn’t as taken by it as many seem to have been. I liked it, I didn’t love it. Let’s start with the film’s strongest asset: Christopher goddamn Plummer. The man goes fully into bizarro world here to play this character, and the guy is a villain for the ages. Heinously violent, gruesomely misogynistic, volcanically volatile, decked out in super femme eyeshadow and heaps of mascara and decorated with bangles of silver bling on every limb, he’s a flamboyantly nasty piece of work and steals the film, whether he’s being an evil Santa or showing up in drag which he gets to do later on. Gould plays his bank teller as very intelligent but also very awkward and somehow stilted in expression and line delivery, I couldn’t really get a sense of his character beyond stoic idiosyncrasy and I feel like he’s an actor who perhaps didn’t find his groove until later in his career when he appeared in stuff like Ocean’s 11, where he’s far more engaging and charismatic than this younger incarnation. Roger Ebert raved about this one being a taut, clockwork tight narrative and I kind of feel different.. the first and third acts are terrifically suspenseful, exciting and ruthless but the film’s midsection wastes a lot of runtime on languid romantic subplots featuring the two girls that don’t add much overall, don’t feel believable with a guy as odd as Gould’s character having that much game with the ladies and bog the narrative momentum down quite a bit. Still, when the film is in its highest gear it’s quite a mean machine, especially when Plummer has anything to say or do about it, which he does. Careful with this one if you’re sensitive about violence towards women, there’s a couple sequences that push the envelope on that just about are far as you can go (even by 1978 standards) and are tough to watch. I found this to be a good if not great suspense thriller with some very well done set pieces and plot turns, and one truly despicable turn from Plummer, who is also playing very against type and loving it. Not as much of a gem for me as it was for a lot of others, but definitely worth a watch.

-Nate Hill

Uwe Boll’s Assault On Wall Street

I know that Uwe Boll has this terrible reputation both behind the camera as a director and in real life and to be fair he has made some ten-ton duds while adapting various video games, but he has also made some films that I have to say are really damn good genre exercises with impassioned sociopolitical undercurrents that he very clearly cares about. He did one about the Sudanese genocide in Darfur which was excellent but so fucking raw and intense in its depictions of those atrocities it gave me a panic attack and I couldn’t finish it, but I’ll review that one day. His more recent film Assault On Wall Street, however, couldn’t be a more timely, relevant or infuriatingly emblazoned piece when you consider how the tides of economic inequality have reached the breaching point on the shores of civility and infrastructural disproportion. Dominic Purcell plays a working class guy in NYC (very recognizably shot in VanCity tho) who has a titanic run of bad luck: his wife (Erin Karpluk) is diagnosed with a terminal illness, he’s laid off from his armoured truck job and the looming financial collapse causes him to lose everything (and I mean *everything*) in the space of a few weeks. He fights desperately, using first the system as best he can and when every avenue of established order fails him, he goes rogue and quite literally takes up arms and holds a bunch of wealthy Wall Street pricks hostage in their building with a gun after killing the corrupt hedge fund advisor (Barclay Hope) who betrayed him. It’s a very startling turn of events and it comes across in several ways simultaneously: a tragic, genuinely heartbreaking downward spiral that feels immediate, a lurid, stylistically heightened tale of pulpy vigilantism and a straightforward siege thriller. Boll doesn’t always juggle all these elements together in a way that feels cohesive or believable, but just enough to have them coexist in the same narrative and work for me as a viewer. Purcell is terrific, he often gets thrown these stoic tough guys after his star making turn on Prison Break but they trust him with an albeit equally tough but strikingly vulnerable and sad individual here who you can relate to and root for later on, if you can reconcile his extreme actions (I definitely could) in the face of utter negligence from his fellow human beings in greater positions of power. The cast is exceptional and includes the late John Heard as an abrasive, morally deficient Wall Street kingpin, Keith David, Edward Furlong and Michael Paré as Purcell’s compassionate coworkers and Eric Roberts himself as a slimy lawyer he hires who doesn’t help anyone much at all. This isn’t a perfect film and at times feels over the top and ‘arch’, but I’d be lying if I said it wasn’t a believable, cathartic and rousing experience; all of us middle class peeps at one time have most likely felt as betrayed, slighted or mistreated by the system as Purcell’s character does here, and his violent call to arms might not necessarily be something to aspire to or even condone, but it’s as scathing an indictment and act of defiance against the strong arm of corrupt, anarchic capitalism as can be expected. Very effective film.

-Nate Hill

André Øvredal’s Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark

Scary Stories To Tell In The Dark would have been more effective if they’d kept the film adaptation as scary, and as dark as the famed book series and I understand that some cohesion in plot and script continuity was needed to give us a feature film, but I kind of wish they’d gone the artsy, surreal route and just adapted each story in an independent black & white ether from one another instead of trying to make them ‘make sense’ logically and have this… YA, Stranger Things teen angst template laid overtop, which really just sucks the spooky air out of the room. That’s not to say this is a bad film, there are some nicely terrifying set pieces, unnervingly tactile practical effects and thrillingly suspenseful sequences.. it’s just the framework that didn’t quite do it for me. The original book series was blissfully simple: just a bunch of random horror fables, independent of one another. The film makes up this cockamamie jargon about some Necronomicon-Lite book that has power over each monster from each respective tale, a book which a cliche ridden group of local kids must destroy as its contents come after them after the reading of each chapter. It’s complete with the small town vibe, bully, love triangle thing and all the rest, which I’m not sure was the right way to go, but like I said, I understand the decision to do so. Having said that, the special effects team has done wonderful work with the monsters and made them about as visually true to the books as possible without quite retaining the stark, ghostly potency of the illustrations we know so well. The contorting Jangly Man is an unholy terror and quite effective, especially as he storms a nearly deserted police station and scares the piss out of its disbelieving Sheriff (Gil Bellows). Harold the Scarecrow is eerie enough but doesn’t get a whole lot to do, while the shambling corpse looking for its Big Toe is pretty darn fucked up and uncomfortable. Most effective is the unnerving Pale Girl, who terrorizes a teen in the abandoned hallways of an asylum from all sides in a sequence that’s the closest the film comes to downright terrifying and, for a time, successfully lives up to the legacy of the books. Producer Guillermo Del Toro’s aura is felt here in the wonderful monster design and director André Øvredal (who helmed the brilliant and far scarier Autopsy Of Jane Doe) keeps the stylistics and suspense going nicely, if not always consistently. Sometimes the switch from the Black & White of the books to a colour palette here can feel a bit demystifying and less otherworldly, I wish they had just gone the Sin City route and done a complete monochrome wash with the odd splash of colour here and there, would have been much more evocative. It’s a decent enough horror film with some truly great monsters, creepy moments and immersive atmosphere… I just could have done without the teen drama subplots, expository connective tissue and this ever present need to *explain* everything and give every horror concept a ‘backstory’ instead of just trusting the source material to be enough on its own and just filming *that* without a bunch of silly narrative bells and whistles that feel familiar and stale.

-Nate Hill

Ric Roman Waugh’s Greenland

Ric Roman Waugh’s Greenland is an uncommonly superb, heartbreakingly intense, strikingly subversive disaster film, the best of its kind in probably decades, to be honest. Usually when I see a Gerard Butler disaster film coming down the pipeline I promptly step to one side and let it pass by without taking notice, like the lame-brained Olympus Has Fallen series or GeoStorm. Let’s face it, the guy’s agent hasn’t been the best at landing decent projects for him, and for a long time too. Let’s hope this is the start of something new in his career because it’s a staggering work that uses its big budget not for flashy, glossy CGI or needlessly elaborate but ultimately hollow blockbuster set pieces. This is a much more intimate disaster flick that uses character, emotion, spacing, nighttime, growing mass hysteria and poignancy to get its point across. Butler plays a Florida structural engineer trying to get his wife (Morena Baccarin) and kid (Roger Dale Floyd) out of Tampa as a disintegrating comet pummels earth with fragments and the countdown to the end of the world begins. The powers that be have a plan to shelter those with good genetics and useable skillsets in fortified bunkers located in Greenland through a selective process using iPhone emergency alerts and Butler’s family has been chosen but there are many elements that make their journey difficult, mainly the widespread chaos and panic as well as the continued decimation of their planet by falling debris. Butler is fantastic here and sells the frenzied desperation well, while Baccarin has never been better and I never would have thought that Deadpool’s girlfriend was capable of such an affecting, raw performance as she gives here. Others give vivid impressions including Hope Davis, Holt McCallany, Madison Johnson, Gary Weeks, Merrin Dungey and many more. Special mention must be made of Scott Glenn as Morena’s father with whom they briefly take shelter with. He brings his usual gritty gravitas and shares a scene with her that brings out the best in both actors and is the film’s emotional lynchpin. The scenes of disaster aren’t obnoxious, grating or show-boaty like many films of this kind; there’s a haunted, celestial quality to the visuals of the descending comet that is both beautiful and terrifying, like ethereal dying stars entering our atmosphere and lighting up our skies in one final display of sustained, painterly cosmic reverence before the inevitable destruction. If Big Hollywood took notes from Waugh and his team on what they’ve achieved here and employed such creative wisdom into all of their disaster films then maybe the genre overall would be taken more seriously because this is one gorgeously produced piece of work that, for me, now sits as the disaster movie gold standard. Great film.

-Nate Hill

Brandon Christensen’s Z

The whole ‘creepy little kid has creepy imaginary friend’ thing has been done so many times in the horror genre we can almost sleepwalk our way through the beats, but that doesn’t mean a vicious, streamlined little effort like Brandon Christensen’s Z can’t come along and scare the shit out of me, which it did. This film doesn’t really do anything new or revolutionary for the formula but rather tells a simple, effective, no frills tale of one kid (Jett Klyne) and his imaginary friend Z, who no one but him can see, and us as we frequently catch unnerving split second sightings of and know he is in fact, very real. His dad (Sean Rogerson) is cavalier and doesn’t think much of it while his mom (Keegan Connor Tracy, excellent performance) is more intuitive and senses that Z is a real presence, not to mention catches fleeting and very disturbing glimpses of him. The boy’s keen psychiatrist (the ever charismatic Stephen McHattie) recognizes a pattern in this chain of events that harkens to a dark hereditary history within the family tree and tries to stop the cycle, but Z is a cunning, devious and very dangerous force. I’m not gonna lie, this film scared the absolute piss out of me; there are several extremely well orchestrated jump scares that are punishingly effective, including one that is so shocking I sat upright in bed and gasped hard enough to induce a coma. The filmmakers also realize that less is more when showing what Z is up to, and although we only ever get very quick peeks at what he, she or it looks like, the anatomical specifics are chilling and otherworldly enough to have the viewer squirming in discomfort. My only complaint is the plot could have been a bit more fleshed out, the mythology clearly delineated and there could have just been… more, overall? It’s a rare complaint as most films seem to divulge too much and go too far over the top while this one employs hefty restraint. This one is a hell of a horror film though, and does enough with dark corners, shadows and negative space to have you turning on all the lights and checking every closet before bed. Excellent film, streaming on Shudder.

-Nate Hill