Two disappointments and a wonderful surprise.
Last Night in Soho
Last Night in Soho is the first Edgar Wright film that feels like a downright squandering of potential, but it’s also the film most outside of his comfort zone, so I give him props for trying. The movie opens incredibly strong with an interesting, 60s obsessed loner girl, Ellie, played very well by Jojo Rabbit‘s Thomasin Mackenzie. She’s a small town country gal going off to the big city of London to study fashion design. She’s a bit of an odd duck compared to the other posers in the program, so immediately she starts getting picked on. It doesn’t help that she’s also struggling with her mom’s somewhat recent suicide and being away from home for the first time ever. She becomes a recluse, moves out of the dorms and rents a room from a cantankerous old tart played by the Queen of Thorns herself, Diana Rigg. While staying in her room she begins experiencing dream hallucinations set in 1965, from the perspective of this struggling actress named Sandy (a spectacular Anya Taylor-Joy), that may or may not be real. The dreams begin magically enough with only a soupcon of creepy males trying to fuck/kill Sandy, but as the dreams progress, we realize Sandy was completely taken advantage of by the men in her life, most of all by her boyfriend/manager played with eerie intensity by Matt Smith. Sandy is brutally murdered, and it’s up to Ellie to solve the murder in present-day London. But oh wait, the dreams are starting to bleed through to her reality, and she’s being attacked by this crazy male rapist ghoooooosts. Ahhhhhh, they follow her everywhere and nobody believes her! This really sets the stage for something more impactful than what it ends up being and even before we hit the half-way mark we start to realize that this isn’t going anywhere truly interesting. It drags like a mother during the second act and then settles on a twist ending that teeters between problematic and horrendously stupid, undercutting most of the brilliance that came before it. The biggest saving grace of the film is the cinematography and film editing, it looks stunning. Another saving grace is the acting, with Smith, Rigg, and a wonderfully creepy Terence Stamp all picking up the slack of the written page, but the movie ultimately belongs to Anya Taylor-Joy who, along with the recent The Queen’s Gambit, really solidifies herself as one of her generation’s best actors. She’s a mini-Meryl, ya’ll! They say it’s not how you start but how you finish that matters so it’s unfortunate Last Night in Soho thought the opposite. Grade: B- (In Theaters)
I have no problem with a horror movie being dark, gritty, violent, disturbing, utterly hopeless, and aggressively cynical. It just has to have the intelligence to back it up. It has to have a point. There must be a method to the madness. Scott Cooper‘s Antlers is a ham-fisted and not particularly insightful child abuse/cycle of abuse allegory that barely uses a fairly interesting monster and then ends on a note that basically says after a certain point, you need to give up on abused children. What a revolting message. If that was the message intended by the filmmaker, but I’m pretty positive it is. It seems pretty clear that was what he was going for from this critic’s perspective, and that sours a lot of the more stylistically interesting choices he makes as a director. From a writing standpoint, Antlers has the emotional depth of a CBS original movie event but just smeared in coagulated blood and severed body parts. The relationship between Keri Russell‘s caring teacher and her cop brother played by Jesse Plemmons is super awkward and doesn’t ring true. It’s somewhat sold by the strength of the actors inhabiting the roles, but a lot of their dialogue and interactions seem out of place even for coming from an abusive childhood. Also, Dazed & Confused‘s Rory Cochrane and Amy Madigan are completely wasted here, in one-dimensional roles that exist solely to move the plot forward. When a horror movie doesn’t have the ingredients to be great you expect it to at least be fun and I’ve been to memorial services more upbeat than Antlers. Grade: C- (In Theaters)
Anything for Jackson
The best film I saw this past Halloween weekend was the one I thought was going to be the worst. What happens when Hallmark Christmas Movie writers decide to say “fuck it” and make a horror film? Apparently, you get a compulsively-watchable, fast-paced thrill ride that replaces one-note ingénues with lived-in 60+ characters, played to near perfection by two recognizable but unknown character actors – the great Julian Richings and Sheila McCarthy. Audrey and Dr. Henry Walsh are broken grandparents, mourning the loss of both their daughter and grandson, Jackson. Desperate and willing to do ANYTHING FOR JACKSON, the two become Satanists and seek out a spell that would bring their grandson back. The only catch is that they have to replace a human life for Jackson’s, so they kidnap one of Henry’s pregnant patients, chain her up in their guest room, and perform black magic on her pregnant belly. Well, things don’t go exactly as planned as these two old coots end up turning their house into a hotel for demons. Much like Malignant in the WTF is happening department, but I’d argue far superior because you don’t have to sit through poorly-acted garbage for an hour and a half before getting to some goddamn payoff. For almost all of its runtime, Anything for Jackson manages to be extremely engaging, legitimately terrifying, and often very funny, before ending on a really ambiguous note that never really comes together. A lot of this is due to the two lead actors who accomplish the difficult task of selling the movie’s utterly ridiculous premise as maybe sorta plausible. You completely believe Audrey and Matt’s anguish and willingness to do…anything…for Jackson. Grade: B+ (Streaming on Shudder)
Spencer, The Harder They Fall and The Eternals (but only if someone pays for me to see it)