“Split”

LOUISA: 3 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

I can see why M. Night Shyamalan‘s tepid suspense / horror thriller “Split” is a runway hit with average audiences. It’s entertaining, well acted and suspenseful enough, but there’s not much to it aside from the gimmick. As with most of Shyamalan’s movies, this one is a chaotic mess — but it’s less disastrous than some of his previous works that are better left forgotten (“After Earth,” “The Village”).

James McAvoy obviously has a lot of fun showing his range by playing the lead character Kevin, a mentally ill man with a dissociative identity disorder (re: multiple personalities). When his trusted psychiatrist Dr. Fletcher (Betty Buckley) learns that Kevin can physically change the state of his body with each split personality, things start to get a little concerning when her patient starts to talk about “The Beast” being unleashed. Kevin abducts three teenage girls so the mythical beast can feed, and the film presents a nice blend of suspense and horror as we watch them attempt to mentally outsmart their captor and escape.

McAvoy is quite talented and chews the scenery with delight, but indie “it girl” Anya Taylor-Joy does little but showcase tears welling in her eyes complimented by her signature pout. The other young women (Haley Lu Richardson and Jessica Sula) basically sit around in various states of undress, breathing heavily. There’s a surprisingly dark subplot involving one of the girls that’s well done but no less disturbing, but of course it’s the showy lead who steals the spotlight.

The story is creative and good enough, but it’s not great because it’s so contrived. Clever isn’t quite the right word for this, but I will say the film is more clever than man-eating plants that inspire suicide (“The Happening”) or a mermaid who lives in a motel pool (“Lady in the Water”). There’s no real twist ending yet the story is crammed with dead-end plot twists. It’s an unpleasant story and movie and it’s not really scary nor really a feel good movie experience, so calling it enjoyable is also not exactly accurate.

The movie’s potential is mostly wasted, but it’s fun to watch McAvoy go full-on camp as a dude suffering from two dozen personalities.

Sundance Review: “Thoroughbred”

LOUISA: 3.5 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

“Thoroughbred” opens with a scene that on the surface seems fairly tame — a teenage girl stares deeply into the eyes of her horse while petting his head. As the camera lingers, unflinching, for several minutes, things start to get really uncomfortable. Suddenly there’s a cut to a backpack being unzipped and a large knife being removed. We never see what happens after that, but it’s not too difficult to guess. The audience eventually learns what happened in that barn through a vivid vocal description, but we never see it. We don’t have to. Simply imagining the horrors is torture enough.

That’s where this film, based on a stage play by the writer / director Cory Finley, excels. Finley is great at tension building in the most basic of ways. It’s a skillful homage to the Alfred Hitchcock school of filmmaking where sometimes the reactions of the characters and the imagination of the audience can be scarier than showing the actual grisly details. There’s an intense scene with a computer and gruesome animal cruelty photos — I had such a physical reaction to the stressors that I had to look away, although we never see what’s happening on the laptop screen and the bloody photos are never shown. This tactic is used again later in the film to a startling, alarming effect, and becomes one of the film’s most well executed and shocking set pieces.

The film is pointlessly told in four chapters and since it is based on a play, it’s dialogue heavy and at times feels more like a stage production than a movie. Luckily Finley has a knack for visual flair and is proficient at building tension with a camera. The film has an unsettling drum heavy score that casts an eerie, ominous feeling, and the cool aloofness of the performances from leads Anya Taylor-Joy (Lily) and Olivia Cooke (Amanda) fits the material just right. There’s a great out of character turn from the late Anton Yelchin (to whom the film is dedicated) as a low-level drug dealer, sex offender, would-be murderer, and aspiring dreamer.

The story revolves around two pretty, rich white girls with serious mental issues. After one is accused of animal cruelty for killing her horse and the other snaps when her step dad (Paul Sparks) announces that he’s sending her away to a boarding school for troubled girls, these psychopathic teenagers decide to plot his murder. There are hints that Lily’s step dad is sexually abusing her, and he is introduced in a creepy, sinister fashion. It’s only later that we realize the truth: that these are superficial problems of the elite and amount to little more than a serious case of teen angst.

The majority of “Thoroughbred” is pretty fantastic. Too bad the director had to go and spoil it with a tacked on, irrelevant epilogue. I completely understand the director’s desire to keep the final scene in the movie, but only because the film’s last line is pretty great. It is a fantastic way to verbally close the film, but I would have preferred that the story end at Chapter 4 rather than with this extraneous scene. It really hurts the tone of the movie and the ending all but ruined it for me.

This film was screened and reviewed at the 2017 Sundance Film Festival.

“Morgan”

LOUISA:  1.5 STARS MATT: 2 STARS


LOUISA SAYS:

The cold, generic and completely forgettable film “Morgan” is a pretty pitiful excuse for a science fiction ‘thriller.’ Even the lame twist ending (itself quickly predictable from the get-go) can’t save the film’s previous 90 minutes of lackluster exposition.

Corporate troubleshooter Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) is sent to a top secret location deep in the woods to investigate a violent incident and assess the danger of a lab created semi-human, Morgan (Anya Taylor-Joy). When their Frankenstein creation escapes, all hell breaks loose. Lee meets resistance from resident scientists and bunker staff Amy (Rose Leslie), Ted (Michael Yare), Skip (Boyd Holbrook), Simon (Toby Jones) and Cheng (Michelle Yeoh), a crowded acting field of folks that aren’t given much of anything to do except stare into space and repeatedly ask “where’s Morgan?”

This is a disappointing, dull movie with lackluster dialogue and completely wooden, robotic performances from all of the actors (Paul Giamatti being the sole exception, but who doesn’t love to watch him yell and cause a ruckus on screen)? This could’ve been a smart thriller with thoughtful themes, a movie with something important to say if only it had a better script and a better vision. I stopped caring before the film neared its halfway point.

There’s really not much to say about this boring movie because not much happens. It’s a one sentence plot that’s drawn out to craft a feature length movie. This whole exercise made me long for last year’s far better sci-fi gal in the glass box movie, “Ex Machina.” It’s unfair to compare the two because “Morgan” isn’t intelligent at all and relies mostly on violence and cheap horror tricks to keep viewers interested. Any attempt at suspense is squandered and the overall lack of storytelling ability from director Luke Scott (yes, Ridley’s son) is astounding. Don’t waste your time or money on this one.

MATT SAYS:

Artificial intelligence and genetic engineering are tools to achieve profit and increase returns in “Morgan”, the new film from director Luke Scott (son of Sir Ridley).

Sometimes timing helps movies; sometimes it hurts them. “Morgan” has been released in the shadow of the massive cult hit “Stranger Things,” and having watched the trailer for “Morgan” repeatedly over the summer, the comparison is unavoidable. As we learn in the trailers, Morgan is a genetic experiment that has been engineered in a secret lab somewhere in the Pacific Northwest. When Morgan (a fast-aging female) starts to experiment with the powers that come with her genetic mutations, profits and humanity are put at risk. It is up to corporate risk management consultant Lee Weathers (Kate Mara) to stop Morgan and save the company.

“Morgan” is a strictly by-the-numbers techno-thriller. There’s not much new or exciting in the film, and not much worthy of remembering or discussing. That’s not to say it’s bad — it’s not — but it’s not really worth your time, either.