March 2022 Roundup
A24 // Directed by Ti West // Starring Mia Goth, Jenna Ortega, Martin Henderson, Brittany Snow, Owen Campbell, Stephen Ure, Scott Mescudi
Whilst boasting an entirely uninteresting title, Ti West’s X is anything but uninteresting. The latest A24 horror is very much a love letter to the exploitation/sexploitation flicks of the 1970s whilst eschewing the trappings of a full-on throwback - there’s more than a hint of The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Eaten Alive here. Its premise is simple - a group of young actors hole up in a farmhouse in Texas to make an elevated porn film, however, the strange old couple that own the land take umbrage and suddenly the group are fighting for their lives - however, X works so well because of its simplicity. Whilst there are plenty of subtexts bubbling away under the surface alluding to sex, aging, porn, and the movie industry - these aren’t always explored in real detail it must be said - X is first and foremost a slasher film that’s packed full of gore, violence, and blood. There’s a real meta quality to the story as well, in it the character of RJ (Campbell) wants to make a “great adult flick” but the other characters argue that people just want to see sex. Similarly, the presence of A24 suggests one thing when people just want to see a low budget horror and that’s what this is. That being said, X is not a fun film but there is a satirical element to it - West doesn’t take his film entirely seriously. Surprisingly (and refreshingly), the characters were developed solidly, for once they weren’t portrayed as awful and/or fodder - Mia Goth stands out in multiple roles here and Brittany Snow also provides a strong performance. Sometimes in life, you just want a simple slasher movie that checks the boxes and then some, X is that movie. Mixing great tension, kills, brutality, and solid characters, X delivers one of the better horror movies of recent years.
Universal Pictures // Directed by Michael Bay // Starring Jake Gyllenhaal, Yahya Abdul-Mateen II, Eiza González
Michael Bay has returned with Ambulance, a remake of 2005 Danish film of the same, and, in true Bay fashion, it’s far longer than its original…it’s also far longer than it needs to be…and it’s probably Bay’s best film in a long time. Ambulance still harbors many tropes and clichés expected from a Bay film, but here he dispenses with some of his more shadier tendencies and actually opens up for more inclusion which was a very welcome surprise. The majority of the film is a high-stakes vehicle chase that spans Los Angeles and focuses on characters played by the dependably decent Gyllenhaal, Abdul Mateen II (whose story provides the real pulse of the story), and González, they all get the assignment and help prevent Ambulance from sliding into mediocre territory. Despite its runtime and premise, it actually manages to feel smaller compared to some other Bay films and the movie is at its strongest when it simply focuses on the three leads together within the confines of the titular ambulance - a particularly icky surgery scene added a shot of tension alongside the heist and hostage aspects. Despite suffering from a bloated runtime (it does begin to get exhausting), some cardboard tertiary characters, and a stretched narrative, Ambulance is spectacularly solid - it’s engaging at times and forgettable at others, but it's certainly not bad.
Variance Films // Directed by S. S. Rajamouli // Starring N. T. Rama Rao Jr., Ram Charan, Ajay Devgn, Alia Bhatt, Shriya Saran, Samuthirakani, Ray Stevenson, Alison Doody, Olivia Morris, Twinkle Sharma
Telegu-language action epic RRR blasted onto Netflix recently and with it brought the long-anticipated pairing of NT Rama Rao Jr. and Ram Charan (this was new information to me and I took it into my viewing with additional intrigue). Set in 1920s India, a time when the British Empire still ruled the country, RRR tells the story of a teenage girl (Sharma) who is abducted from her family by the evil British administration. One of the tribe members Bheem (Rao Jr.) vows he will do whatever it takes to get her back, whilst Indian policeman Raju (Charan), swears to stop the man who is inflicting trouble on the British regime - it’s a clever set-up as one of them is aware of their opposing interests. From the get-go, RRR showcases incredible scope, spectacular action sequences, and some fine performances as well, and whilst it doesn’t remain fully consistent throughout the entirety of its three-hour runtime, it’s certainly one hell of a ride. Visually, RRR is a treat, not just for its scale but in the way the vibrant colours dance on screen with a vicious clarity throughout, this being especially noticeable during the musical sequences (of which many are great). The two leads are magnetic together, three decades of off-screen cinematic rivalry are put to bed with their all-in, contrasting performances and fine supporting performances from Alia Bhatt and Ray Stevenson (amongst others) round out an impressive showing from the cast. However, such a long runtime brings the necessity to fill it adequately, and RRR does begin to run out of steam the further into its story it goes. The action sequences, whilst still impressive, cannot top what came before and the story begins to feel stretched before coming back around again for the conclusion. Nevertheless, for the majority of its runtime, RRR is a fun, wild, and captivating epic
Netflix // Directed by Kevin Ko // Starring Tsai Hsuan-yen, Huang Sin-ting, Kao Ying-hsuan, Sean Lin, RQ
Found footage is a tough subgenre to nail. Many have tried, and many have failed, whilst there are a few real gems out there. Taiwanese horror Incantation throws its hat into the ring with a story that, at its core, depicts the strength of a mother's love, a strength tested when an ancient curse conjured years prior reemerges and threatens the fates of those around her. Tsai Hsuan-yen plays Li Ronan, the mother of young Dodo (Huang Sin-ting), whom she has regained custody of after years apart due to perceived mental health issues. The bond between Hsuan-yen and Sin-ting is beautiful to watch, Hsuan-yen’s performance is particularly solid, and their relationship provides many of the atmospheric scares in the opening half of the movie (it’s not slow in getting started). The found footage aspect of the film is partially captured by Ronan as she is documenting Dodo’s early life, however, the movie later relies on phones, CCTV, camcorders, and more in order to keep things moving. It’s not entirely successful, though, as, at times, the varying camera angles employed make Incantation feel more like a standard horror movie than a genuine, found footage effort - and the moments are noticeable. Utilising a non-linear narrative, with the story of Ronan protecting Dodo in the present from the malevolent force, the movie also flashes back to allow us to see what really occurred when the curse was unleashed. In these moments, Incantation takes on its religious horror aspect as we are introduced to Ronan’s boyfriend Dom (Lin), Yuan (RQ), and the Chen family who are…a bit odd, let’s just say. The shifting narrative isn’t always easy to follow and did halt the momentum being built up at certain points - the movie did begin to feel drawn out by the need for exposition which didn’t help matters. When Incantation focused on slowly building an atmosphere of dread and tension, it was extremely effective, and these moments aren’t sparse, but it ultimately suffers from a disjointed narrative, questionable ‘found footage’ use, and (in true horror fashion) strange leaps of logic - the ending, however, is great.