The Silencing

You would think that an alcoholic Jaime Lannister searching for the serial killer who took his daughter years ago in the misty Ontario woods would be a great premise for a thriller, but I couldn’t help feeling like something was missing in The Silencing, a certain spark or personality that would have made it really memorable. Nikolaj Coster Waldau is good in the role but he’s always got a welcome presence, I feel like it’s story that suffers here, from too many threads, none of which are tied up well enough save for the central killer plot. He plays this guy who is an ex big game hunting guru, now lives on a wildlife preservation sanctuary, drinks about 50 2/6’s of Scotch a day and gets real riled up when a body is found in the woods near his place, as it stirs up memories of his daughter and kicks up a drive to catch this killer. This is a role that dudes like Rutger Hauer, Michael Biehn, Dolph Lundgren or Lance Henriksen would have rocked in their 80’s heyday and if the film focused more on this one guy way out in the woods stalking a whacked out killer, I would have enjoyed it more. But there’s all kinds of dumb shit involving the local sheriff (Annabelle Wallis), her wayward young brother (Hero Fiennes Tiffin), the chief of tribal police (Zahn McLarnon), a First Nations crime boss (Gregory Odjig) and more. Why all this second tier fanfare? It clutters what would have been a streamlined, hypnotic tale of man versus man in nature and tries to do this whole True Detective ensemble whodunit thing that is just clumsy and tedious. Some of the chases and confrontations are fun, the killer wears a scary Cabela’s style onesie and uses a *truly* unique weapon to hunt his prey, while wild eyed Waldau fires his hunting rifle madly all over the forest trying to nail the guy. There’s one priceless moment where a schoolteacher brings a bunch of kids by the sanctuary on a field trip on a morning where Waldau is particularly sloshed. “Are you intoxicated?” She asks him horror, to which he slurs back “Don’t worry, the kids won’t notice.” They notice, and it’s hilarious. There are great moments and set pieces scattered throughout the film, but it’s not enough to save it from the weight of so much needless plot filler that I didn’t give a solid gold shit about. Give me Jaime Lannister hunting a killer through the woods for two hours straight and not much else, or don’t waste my time.

-Nate Hill

Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep

I read a thing recently that Stephen King’s The Shining and Doctor Sleep, although two sides of the same coin, are very much in different places thematically. The Shining deals with isolation, confinement and madness whereas Doctor Sleep explores escape, pursuit and redemption. This could be the reason that I loved Mike Flanagan’s Doctor Sleep a lot more than I did Stanley Kubrick’s The Shining, which felt so much richer, wider in scope, ambition and rewarding in story. The Shining is a cold, hard and admittedly brilliant horror film but going from that aesthetic to Doctor Sleep is like holding your breath until you almost faint and then letting out one monumental exhale that feels a lot better than what came before. Sleep is the exhale, a flowing, horrific, cathartic and gorgeous dark jewel of a horror film that stands as loving homage to Kubrick’s film but just does so much more on a wider canvas.

Flanagan spends the first half of this story establishing setting, characters and history in economic yet leisurely fashion, as this runs for a delicious two and a half hours. Dan Torrence (Roger Dale Floyd) and his mom Wendy (Alex Essoe, not quite a dead ringer for Shelley Duvall but she finds her own essence and I liked her work) survived their nightmarish stay at the haunted Overlook Hotel and did their best to carry on with life. Fast forward all the way to 2011 and Dan is now a haggard looking and near homeless Ewan McGregor, bus hopping his way across the states and arriving in a small county to find help from AA and work at a hospice for dying elderly folks. Elsewhere, a roving band of vampiric creatures calling themselves The True Knot search for kids like Dan who possess the ‘Shine’, and consume it for sustenance. Also out there is young Abra (Kyliegh Curran), a girl with maybe the biggest reservoir of Shine within her and the power to defeat the Knot and their evil leader Rose The Hat (Rebecca Ferguson). This power struggle of course eventually leads them back to where Dan’s story originally began, the now derelict and rotting Overlook, fast asleep and waiting.

I loved this film. It’s so much more comprehensive and on fire than The Shining’s chilly aura gave us. Characters are sharply drawn, performances are wonderfully shaped and there are so many ideas, references and nods to the King Dark Tower multiverse that positively gave me chills. Ferguson is a tornado of pure malice as Rose The Hat, embodying shades of Stevie Nicks and playing this evil supernatural gypsy bitch to the absolute height of performance. Curran is a brilliant find as Abra, she radiates the resilience of this kid while clearly showing the fear, uncertainty and vulnerability of someone with such powers. McGregor is gruff and haunted as Dan, a casting choice that seems simultaneously out of left field and fitting like a glove. There are other familiar faces across this landscape including Cliff Curtis, Bruce Greenwood, Henry Thomas, Robert Longstreet, Zahn McLarnon and Carel Stryucken who we fondly remember as The Fireman from Twin Peaks and The Moonlight Man from Flanagan’s Gerald’s Game. Room’s Jacob Tremblay also shows up as an unfortunate young victim of The Knot who gets slaughtered in a sequence of raw evil that will send a shiver down spines en masse. At the heart of this story is compassion though; Dan, with the help of an adorable cat, eases numerous elderly folks across the threshold of death with kindness and these scenes affect overall and add warmth to his character, while hitting me on a deeply personal level given my experiences with such things this past year. He’s forced to go back and confront the evil that he prayed he’d never see again and it’s a strong ray of redemption, for him and his now dead father who fell victim to such horrors. There is a lot at work here, it blows this world right open and finds connective tissue to King’s universe where Kubrick kept things close to the chest and contained. One of the best horror films, King adaptations and pieces of storytelling I’ve seen in some time.

-Nate Hill

The Light, The Dark & the souls in between: A review of FX’s Fargo by Nate Hill

Series creator Noah Hawley had the daunting task of taking Fargo, one of the most iconic Coen Brothers films, and turning it into a long form piece of television storytelling for FX. That’s the nutshell version anyways, what he was really up against was a gaggle of rabid Coen acolytes who wanted networks nowhere near the shining legacy of the film, which has gone platinum as a highlight in the Brother’s career. How did he and his team do? Well, better than the Coens themselves did, which may stand as a controversial opinion, but if you’re as big a fan of the show’s brilliant three season run as I am then you’ll agree.

The Coen’s designed the blueprint, if you will, while Hawley & Co. take that template and positively run wild with it. It’s an anthology piece where each season focuses on another bunch of ne’er do well characters who are connected sometimes loosely and sometimes in ways that floor you later on. Yes, all the tropes we love are there: thick blizzards of blinding snow, murder most foul, dark comedy and those hysterically quaint Minnesota accents that seem to be pulled right out of Tolkien’s The Shire in some odd way. But Hawley digs deeper, and for all it’s grounded noir, homicidal schemes and materialistic flash, his Fargo mines for esoteric gold and to me ultimately is about beings of light and dark waging war over human souls on our plane. This is of course my own intuitive theory and is evident sometimes more often than others within the show, but it’s hard not to see when you look at both how cheerfully angelic some of the good, kind folks are here and how fitfully, deliciously self aware the evil ones are, like it’s less their nature to be despicably destructive as much as it is simply their job.

The first and strongest season sees Billy Bob Thornton’s sagely psychopath Lorne Malvo blow into town on a whim and stir up a brew of horrors almost by accident or out of sheer boredom, pushing the already unstable nebbish Lester Nygaard (Martin Freeman) to ongoing acts of unspeakable destruction. A smart cop (Allison Tolman), another slightly less smart cop (Colin Hanks) and others fight the good fight to root out evil and stop Malvo’s unholy snowball effect of mayhem and restore order. This one works the best as a stand-alone, wraps up the loose ends most satisfyingly and holds as the showcase chunk the show has to offer. The second season is brilliant but less focused, flashing back to the snowy 70’s to chronicle Sheriff Lou Solverson’s (Patrick Wilson, also played by a stoic Keith Carradine in S1) battle against the brutal Gerhardt crime family when they’re turf skirmish with a big city syndicate erupts into all out warfare and the bodies begin piling up. What this season lacks in pacing and a clearly painted main villain it makes up for in spectacle, there’s a vast ensemble cast and lush period production design for a visual element that won’t quit. Zahn Mclarnon excels as Hanzee Dent, a troubled First Nations assassin who struggles with being a lone outsider and feels a moral crisis at the penultimate moment, Jeffrey Donovan is enthusiastically nasty as Dodd, the misogynistic elder brother of the Gerhardt clan, while Bokeem Woodbine is the slick city slicker encroaching on his territory. Season 3 unfolds on a smaller scale, back to the grassroots procedural drama that leads to heinous unlawful doings. Ewan McGregor does double duties as two twin brothers in a hateful feud, one of which finds himself in the ravenous maw of terrifying V.M. Varga (David Thewlis in a career best), a demonic opportunist out to cause bureaucratic anarchy within the ranks with his army of underworld goons. Local cop Gloria Burgle (Carrie Coon) tries to fit the pieces together and a mysterious messianic nomad (Twin Peaks’ Ray Wise) presides over the whole debacle with laconic benevolence. That’s the tip of the iceberg really, and vivid impressions are made by a beautifully chosen, star studded cast that includes Oliver Platt, Adam Goldberg, Stephen Root, Bob Odenkirk, Shawn Doyle, Ted Danson, Nick Offerman, Jean Smart, Kieran Culkin, Michael Hogan, Jennifer Copping, Brad Garrett, Russell Harvard, Scott Hylands, Frances Fisher, Francesca Eastwood, Fred Melamed, Kirsten Dunst, Jesse Plemons, Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Cristin Milioti, Angus Sampson, Michael Stuhlbarg, Goran Bogdan, Shea Wigham, Mary McDonnell, Key & Peele, DJ Qualls, Scoot Mcnairy, Mackenzie Grey, Wayne Duvall and Bruce Campbell in a cameo as Ronald Reagan.

Each of the three seasons is a dense, meticulously woven patchwork quilt of violence, mistaken identity, literary references, surreal allegorical imagery, unpredictable plot turns, monsters, and mayhem, each with its own unmistakable style and atmosphere. Much of the storytelling is filled with things that seem like planted arbitration, like UFO sightings or cutaways to other vignettes, but they’re there to gild the tales with further eccentricity and for you to make of them what you will, as much of it is never explained or totally elaborated on, which I appreciate. With each episode there’s a lot more going on than what’s in the main arc, these are stories to be savoured and scrutinized for clues and references, of which there are many subtle callbacks to the Coen’s other work, it’s fun to notice and tally them up. The themes of light and dark are ever present through the entire run though, as if we’re privy to a never ending battle of forces wrapped in a cluster of crime stories centred around snowy Minnesota and surrounding areas. I’m not sure whether they plan to go ahead with a fourth season and I’d welcome it, but as it stands this is a beautifully made trilogy, with fantastic writing that practically feeds the brain like prosaic protein, a cast that’s to die for and narratives that truly take you on harrowing, hilarious adventures. You betcha.

-Nate Hill

Lin Oeding’s Braven

Lin Oeding’s Braven is the second film I’ve seen this year that sees an emotionally damaged lumberjack taking revenge on a bunch of assholes who messed with his family, and although it isn’t quite the stab of innovation that Panos Cosmatos’s Mandy is, it takes the old school rough n’ tumble action route and does the genre proud. Jason Mamoa is Joe Braven, a logger and family man living with his family in the gorgeous Canadian wilderness. His dad (the great Stephen Lang) is suffering from the onset of dementia, causing enough stress in the family. Life gets tougher for them when a pack of dangerous, heavily armed drug smugglers arrives at Joe’s remote mountain cabin to retrieve a previously stashed bag of smack, and put his family right in the crosshairs. It’s up to him and pops Lang to use ingenuity, teamwork and a few weapons to take the baddies out and keep his wife and daughter safe. It’s a formula premise given earnest treatment and works well thanks to solid performances and terrific action choreography, there are some deliciously ruthless kills here as well as breathless chase scenes through the wilderness and atop snowy peaks. It’s also nice to see an action hero who bleeds and is very much a vulnerable human being, Joe gets knocked around quite a bit both physically and emotionally, Momoa handles the beats wonderfully. Lang is terrific old grit as always, and Garrett Dillahunt plays a vicious Dilla-cunt as the psychopath leader of the smuggling ring who’s not above capping off his own guys and brutally threatening Joe’s clan. I’m always a sucker for films set in the snow, it somehow just laces the atmosphere and gives it that edge, there is some spectacular Canadian wilderness photography here especially in a moody opening credit sequence showcasing local wildlife and set to the surprisingly mellow, elemental score from Justin Small and Ohad Benchedrit that echoes the melodies of Sigur Ros nicely. This isn’t anything revolutionary or groundbreaking, but within the genre it resides it is top shelf stuff, beautifully made, appropriately rugged and visceral with a steady emotional core and heaps of wintry atmosphere. Loved it.

-Nate Hill