It Comes at Night

June 9, 2017 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Joel Edgerton, Christopher Abbott, Carmen Ejogo
Directed by: Trey Edward Shults (“Krisha”)
Written by: Trey Edward Shults (“Krisha”)

Post-apocalyptic films have always been a source of intrigue, but recent years have shown a different take on them. While many films in the past have focused on the catastrophic event itself, contemporary films have experimented with deeply intimate and passionate narratives in the wake of these events, instead choosing to focus on the character influence and even ignoring the cause of the event itself. It’s a great way to tell a personal story, and has allowed independent filmmakers to tell a big story on a small scale. It’s perhaps fitting, that indie filmmaker Trey Edward Shults (“Krisha”) takes the idea of a post apocalyptic landscape and creates a moody, tense thriller with his sophomore effort “It Comes at Night.”

Keeping to just his wife and his teenage son, Paul (Joel Edgerton) fights to protect his family from an unknown threat outdoors that has made everyone sick and wiped out the population. When he finds a man Will (Christopher Abbott) in his home, he meets with his family who agrees to allow him to bring his wife and young son to live with them in exchange for food. As the family dynamics change, events begin to make both Paul and Will leery of each other as paranoia sets in and nobody can be trusted.

Though the title, trailers and marketing may suggest that the film is a horror, “It Comes at Night” feels far more like a psychological thriller than anything else. There are some moments of horror with disturbing imagery and a couple of cheap jump scares, but the film is truly effective in its ability to build tension.

The film is boosted by its performances, primarily that of Edgerton and to a slightly lesser extent, Abbott. Edgerton, in particular, plays his role with a sense of desperation that makes his character feel capable of doing anything for the sake of protecting his family. The tension doesn’t necessarily come from the looming threat outside, but rather what is going on inside closed doors and what truths will be unveiled.

It’s also a very well made film from a technical standpoint. It features beautiful cinematography from Drew Daniels that really helps set the tone and mood for the film. It’s well edited, well performed, and for the direction from Trey Edward Shults successfully creates a fully believable post-apocalyptic landscape.

When digging deeper, however, “It Comes at Night” fails to find much below surface level. Thematically, there’s nothing overtly present that makes the film stand out in any significant way. It’s technically sound and is certainly intense at times, but other than creating mood and atmosphere, very little about the film resonates.

Shults is a name to watch out for and has created a thriller full of mystery, intrigue and slow-burning intensity. It feels, however, like a missed opportunity to create something deeper and more meaningful. Instead, “It Comes at Night” plays as an above average thriller about how desperation and protection can push a man to the brink and awaken hidden horrors.

Selma

January 9, 2015 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: David Oyelowo, Tom Wilkinson, Carmen Ejogo
Directed by: Ava DuVernay (“Middle of Nowhere”)
Written by: Paul Webb (debut)

As such an important figure in the history of the United States, it is equal parts incredible and perplexing to think that there has yet to be a biopic of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. First out of the gate, however, is Ava DuVernay’s “Selma,” and despite a few roadblocks in production, her film feels very much worth the wait.

In 1965, African Americans were legally allowed to vote, yet many in the South were still facing unfair restrictions as they tried to register. Unable to get President Lyndon Johnson (Tom Wilkinson) to pass a law prohibiting these unfair voting restrictions, civil rights activist Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. (David Oyelowo) and other members of his movement decide to organize a march from Selma, Alabama to Montgomery, Alabama as the culmination of a series of dangerous protests.

Any discussion of “Selma” starts and ends with David Oyelowo’s electric portrayal of Dr. King. As magnetic as any performance this year, Oyelowo completely embodies King, bringing life, nuance, and often times subtlety to a larger-than-life figure. Oyelowo is, of course, at his absolute finest when he is delivering energetic and intense speeches, yet there are smaller moments such as a scene with the father of a member of the movement who has been killed that really show the depth of performance. As his foil, a hard-edged Wilkinson makes for a great LBJ, stonewalling King in his quest for legislation.

In an interesting wrinkle, the rights to King’s actual speeches reside with another studio and were not able to be purchased by the filmmakers of “Selma.” As such, director DuVernay was tasked with re-writing King’s speeches for the film. Her work is exceptional, as she is able to skirt by copyright law and give the character rousing material sounding exactly like King’s actual speeches. Of course, it helps to have Oyelowo giving her words such dramatic weight.

Though largely coincidental, “Selma” happens to be a film that is incredibly timely. Moviegoers will undoubtedly notice parallels between what they’ve seen on TV from Ferguson, Missouri and the events of the film, especially as police launch tear gas at protestors. If nothing else, the comparisons reinforce the still reverberating racial tension that reached a fever pitch in the most intense sequences of “Selma” and carry on through the country today.

By focusing on just the voting rights marches, screenwriter Paul Webb successfully avoids one of the most common pitfalls of biopics, which is casting too big of a net and spanning too much of a subjects life. In keeping things condensed, Webb’s story is able to resonate deeper and leads to a clean and powerful story arc. Anchored by Oyelowo’s performance, “Selma” is the rare Hollywood biopic that is as raw as it is polished and powerful, making it one of the better civil rights movies in recent memory.

The Purge: Anarchy

July 18, 2014 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Frank Grillo, Carmen Ejogo, Zac Gilford
Directed by: James DeMonaco (“The Purge”)
Written by: James DeMonaco (“The Purge”)

The 2013 film “The Purge” began with an interesting concept—all crime is legal in the United States for a 12-hour period on one day a year—but was ultimately undone by its small scale and over-reliance on weirdness to convey menace. Even at a scant hour and 25 minutes, the film routinely dragged to a halt with the narrative limited to one family locked inside one house while weirdos in masks lurked outside, speaking in archly polite platitudes while threatening to kill the family if they don’t give up a man they took in.

The sequel, “The Purge: Anarchy,” expands the scope and setting by stranding five people in the middle of Los Angeles during the annual Purge, the virtuousness of which is extolled by the mysterious New Founding Fathers. The group, consisting of a lone wolf out for vengeance (Frank Grillo), a mother (Carmen Ejogo) and daughter (Zoe Saul) dragged from their home, and a couple (Zac Gilford and Kiele Sanchez) left stranded by a broken-down car, attempt to survive the night while being pursued by a well-armed militia in tractor-trailer trucks who seem to know their every move.

While the larger playground helps “Anarchy” overcome the claustrophobic trappings the first film fell into, the sequel ultimately provides more of the same when it comes to people running for their lives. “Anarchy” attempts to expand the mythology as well, with lukewarm results. As set up in the first film, the United States collapsed into ruin (relatively speaking—nothing looks post-apocalyptic) only to be brought back to life by a group known as The New Founding Fathers. Not much is presented about how they restored the U.S. to prominence other than The Purge. With “Anarchy,” we see the first glimpse of one of the New Founding Fathers (surprise: he’s an old white guy) along with the not-subtle revelation that they are behind the small armies roaming the streets, killing the poor to thin out the population to benefit the rich, something “Snowpiercer” already did earlier this month with much more satisfying results.

One more aspect of the world-building the filmmakers’ are doing indicates we’re in for the long haul when it comes to “Purge” movies: Michael K. Williams’ anti-Purge revolutionary Carmelo looms large over most of the film, only to show up at the end with no resolution. Hiring an actor of Williams’ medium star caliber—who is clearly riffing on Samuel L. Jackson—with a fate left up in the air seems to point to the character living to fight another day in whatever comes next for the series. If “Anarchy” is any indication, were just in for more of the same.