Tuesday, April 25, 2017

Movie Review: The Lost City of Z

The Lost City of Z
Directed by: James Gray.
Written by: James Gray bases on the book by David Grann.
Starring: Charlie Hunnam (Percy Fawcett), Robert Pattinson (Henry Costin), Sienna Miller (Nina Fawcett), Tom Holland (Jack Fawcett), Edward Ashley (Arthur Manley), Angus Macfadyen (James Murray), Ian McDiarmid (Sir George Goldie), Clive Francis (Sir John Scott Keltie), Pedro Coello (Tadjui), Matthew Sunderland (Dan), Johann Myers (Willis), Aleksandar Jovanovic (Urquhart), Franco Nero (Baron De Gondoriz).
There have been a lot of people saying that James Gray’s The Lost City of Z is a throwback – the type of old fashioned epic that Hollywood just doesn’t make anymore. And to a certain extent, that is true. This is the type of film that John Ford or John Huston would have made during the Golden Years of Hollywood – an epic about European explorers, heading to Amazonia to see what they can discover in the jungle there. It is a study of manly men doing fulfilling their roles as explorers and alpha men. Yet, Gray – who doesn’t seem like a natural choice for the material at first, isn’t interested in just making a nostalgic look back. His film is set more than 100 years ago, and Gray’s film openly questions the morals of that time period in ways in which neither a Ford or Huston film would have. The film does examine colonialism, as well as racism and even sexism. Most importantly, unlike Ford or Huston, who would have unabashedly loved the “hero” of The Lost City of Z, Gray never fails to acknowledge that he is more than a little bit of an asshole. Being more enlightened than most other, white European males at the time is a far cry from being enlightened.
The film stars Charlie Hunnam as Percy Fawcett – an officer in the British army who, as one person says has a “poor choice of ancestors”. His father, who Percy did not know, has brought shame upon their name – and Percy would like nothing more than win back the family honor – preferably in combat. He doesn’t get his chance right away though – but he gets it another way. He is recruited by the Royal Geographical Society to head to South America, and map out the border between Bolivia and Brazil – the two are fighting over it (the price of rubber has made where the border lies valuable), and neither side will let the other be involved in doing the charting. Percy heads there – the first of three times he will do so in the movie – and alongside his allies, including Henry Costin (Robert Pattinson) do what their job. But while in the jungle, Percy discovers remnants – pieces of pottery, that suggest that the “savages” have a society that dates back thousands of years – even pre-dating European society (the shock!). Upon returning to England, his wife Nina (Sienna Miller) discovers documents that chart the existence of a Lost City – which Percy names Z, and becomes obsessed with finding. He’ll embark on a second trip with Costin – funded by a spoiled wanker, James Murray (Angus Mcfadyen), who puts them all at risk – until WWI breaks out, and seemingly ends his dream. It’s only after the war when Percy is able to head back – this time along with his son, Jack (Tom Holland).
In many ways, The Lost City of Z is a story of obsession – Percy desperately wants to find Z, even if he can never really explain what it he expects to find there, or why it has become so important to him. The film never quite goes over to the side of madness – like say Werner Herzog’s Aguirre the Wrath of God or Firtzcarraldo or Francis Ford Coppola’s Apocalypse Now, three films that resemble this one, and who Gray references in this film as well. Percy’s obsession doesn’t drive him insane per se – but it does drive a wedge in his family. When the film opens, it seems like Percy and Nina have a good marriage – and a happy one, and one that is built upon mutual respect. His obsession with the Amazon, and his repeated trips there, takes him away from his family – sometimes for years at a time. His kids grow up barely knowing him, and resenting him for it. In a scene that is somewhat difficult to watch, he argues with Nina when she says she wants to join him on his trip to the Amazon – she helped him with the research after all, including finding the key document. The scene lays bare just what he thinks “equality” in a marriage looks like. Likewise, when he gives speeches about the “Savages” – he isn’t as cruel or ignorant as many of his colleagues – but that hardly makes him enlightened.
Those scenes give even the exciting scenes in the jungle a sadder undercurrent – he is going for adventure, but what is the cost of that adventure. When he heads back the third time with his son – after cruelly getting him to ask his mother for permission – he is doing it under the guise of letting his son in, but it’s really just another chance to pursue his obsession. Costin sees this – knows it too well – which is why he stays home.
Gray is an interesting filmmaker. For quite a while, he worked in some key crime dramas – Little Odessa, The Yards, We Own the Night – in which he slowly built up the worlds around his characters, which felt authentic. He moved onto something more romantic in Two Lovers, and tragic in the period piece The Immigrant. This film is not like those other ways in many ways, but is in the way he pays attention to detail, in the way he builds his worlds, and how it is impeccably crafted and beautifully hot on 35MM film, which gives the film added texture.
The Lost City of Z is indeed a throwback – an old fashioned adventure epic, the likes of which we haven’t seen in years. It is also a film though that sees through the myths that those older films whole heartedly accepted – which is what ends up being the most interesting aspect of this film.

Movie Review: Free Fire

Free Fire
Directed by: Ben Wheatley.   

Written by: Amy Jump and Ben Wheatley.
Starring: Brie Larson (Justine), Cillian Murphy (Chris), Armie Hammer (Ord), Sharlto Copley (Vernon), Sam Riley (Stevo), Michael Smiley (Frank), Noah Taylor (Gordon), Jack Reynor (Harry), Babou Ceesay (Martin), Enzo Cilenti (Bernie), Mark Monero (Jimmy), Patrick Bergin (Howie), Tom Davis (Leary). 
Ben Wheatley’s Free Fire is 15 year old me’s new favorite movie. The film looks and feels like one of the many Tarantino knockoffs that flourished in the mid-to late 1990s, with the exception being that Free Fire is actually good. No, there is no depth to the movie. Yes, it is all style over substance. But it’s also fast paced and entertaining, bloody as hell, and doesn’t overstay its welcome – just 91 minutes of a bunch of guys – and one girl – shooting at each other and saying fuck a lot. This is a movie that knows precisely what it is, and has no delusions of grandeur. And it’s a lot of fun.
The plot of the film is pretty much meaningless – but is basically a group representing the IRA – calm, cool Chris (Cillian Murphy), hot tempered Frank (Michael Smiley), Frank’s idiot junkie brother in law Stevo (Sam Riley) and his idiot friend Bernie (Enzo Cilenti) have a contact in Justine (Brie Larson) to bring them to her contact Ord (Armie Hammer), who represents a crazed South African gun dealer, Vern (Sharlo Copley), his partner Martin (Babou Ceesay), a former Black Panther – and their two lackeys Harry (Jack Reynor) and Gordon (Noah Taylor). The want to buy M-16s, but Vern says he only has AR-70s, and that’s the least of their problems. Things seem to be going okay, until Harry recognizes Stevo from a previous incident, setting off a series of events that will eventually see the two sides face off against each other in an epic gun battle. Pretty much everyone is hit almost right away, resulting in lots of blood, and people basically just crawling around on the ground of the dirty warehouse the trade was taking place in. This in 1978, so there are no cellphones, but everyone is dressed real sharp – like if when things are over, they’re all going to head out to the disco together.
A film like Free Fire depends on just a couple of elements to make it work – basically the cast and the writing, and Free Fire gets both right. No, I’m not going to argue that any of these characters are particularly deep or fully fleshed out characters, but the screenplay by Wheatley and his partner Amy Jump makes everyone a distinctive personality, and then perfectly cast those personalities – so much so that it makes you wonder how many of these roles were written specifically for the actors they cast. The dialogue isn’t as smart or layered as Tarantino’s –it’s more of a blunt instrument here, but it more than gets the job done. And the acting is great. There isn’t a weak link in the cast, but my favorites are probably Larson – whose character is a stand-in for every woman who has to work with idiot men, but cannot say anything and has to hide her thinly veiled contempt for them (wait a minute, is that every woman?), Hammer who is the one bland white guy who actually has the charm Hollywood thinks he has (take that Jai Courtney!) and Copley, who like always is dialed up to 11, but in a movie like this, that’s warranted (I am just slightly disappointed that he doesn’t attempt another of his completely unplaceable accents – like in Spike Lee’s Oldboy, although I do appreciate that many of the other characters can’t place his accent at all).
Wheatley is developing quite a filmography in not a lot of time – I still don’t think he’s made anything as good as Kill List (2011) – the first film of his I saw (I do need to catchup with his debut, Down Terrace) – and twisted itself three times, to show three distinct types of violence. But his black comedy Sightseers was a lot of fun, and his adaptation of High-Rise was appropriately surreal (I hated A Field in England, but many seem to like it, so maybe that’s me). All his films are violent, and obsessed with the cinema of the past, and yet they’re different enough that he’s really not repeating himself either. At the very least when I see a Wheatley film, I know it’s going to be well thought out, and interesting and entertaining. Free Fire isn’t a great film – but it’s a hell of a lot of genre buffs like me, who grew up on films like this.

Movie Review: A Quiet Passion

A Quiet Passion
Directed by: Terence Davies.
Written by: Terence Davies. 
Starring: Cynthia Nixon (Emily Dickinson), Jennifer Ehle (Vinnie Dickinson), Duncan Duff (Austin Dickinson), Keith Carradine (Father - Edward Dickinson), Jodhi May (Susan Gilbert), Joanna Bacon (Mother - Emily Norcross), Catherine Bailey (Vryling Buffam), Emma Bell (Young Emily Dickinson),
Benjamin Wainwright (Young Austin Dickinson), Annette Badland (Aunt Elizabeth), Rose Williams (Young Vinnie Dickinson), Noémie Schellens (Mabel Loomis Todd), Miles Richardson (Pastor), Eric Loren (Reverend Wadsworth), Stefan Menaul (Mr. Emmons), Sara Vertongen (Miss Lyon), Simone Milsdochter (Mrs. Wadsworth).
How does a filmmaker go about making a biopic of a famous person about which little is known? Emily Dickinson is one of the best known poets in the English language – arguably America’s greatest poet ever – and yet she lived a quiet life, pretty much in obscurity – only a few of her poems being published anonymously in a small, local paper run by a friends of her fathers. She died in 1886, having never married, and barely having left Amherst, Massachusetts – and in later years, barely leaving her bedroom. It wasn’t until after her death that her sister discovered her poems, and had them published – they haven’t gone out of print since.
Dickinson’s life then, despite her poetry, would seem like it wouldn’t really lend itself to a movie of her life. Yet in the hands of Terrence Davies, A Quiet Passion becomes a wonderful film. Davies was inarguably the right filmmaker for the task – he has often made films that are largely limited to the interior of a single family home (using his home life as fodder for Distant Voices, Still Lives and The Long Day Closes), and last year’s Sunset Song, although it had a larger scope than this one, again focused on a single home, and the action inside of it. In A Quiet Passion, Cynthia Nixon plays Emily Dickinson as a fiercely intelligent, quick witted woman, who was ever loyal to her family. That wit gets in her trouble from time-to-time – although Dickinson was religious, her idea of religion differed from some in the clergy. Her deep love for her family came along with high moral standards for them as well – standards that lead her to feel betrayed if you cannot live up to them.
As with every film Davies has ever made, A Quiet Passion is a beautiful film – wonderful shot by Florian Hoffmeister, who worked with Davies before on The Deep Blue Sea. This film doesn’t allow Davies and Hoffmeister the opportunities for beautiful shots of rain soaked London like that film did, yet they still find a way to make the film – all set in Dickinson home look interesting.
The film is uncommonly wordy for a Davies film – his film more often than not show, don’t tell, their stories, through montage and music. But it is appropriate for this film that Davies screenplay takes so much joy in language – and its precise usage – as Dickinson does in her poetry. The film seems mannered at first – perhaps a little over-written. Yet, the film is so beautifully performed, that it doesn’t take long to fall into its rhythms of the film. Nixon is great, but almost as good is Jennifer Ehle as her sister Vinnie – who is ever smiling, but is made of tougher stuff than she appears, Catherine Bailey as their friend Vryling Buffam, who is outwardly rebellious, although more conventional than she first appears.
A Quiet Passion is an odd film – which befits the subject matter. Dickinson didn’t lead the type of life that normally gets the biopic treatment, so it would stand to reason that she wouldn’t be subject of a normal film about her life. A Quiet Passion is something altogether different, and wonderful. I’ve typically been cooler on Davies than many – I admire his work more than I like it – but for me this is his best since The House of Mirth (which will always be my favorite of his films). An odd film, but a vital one.

Movie Review: Your Name.

Your Name.
Directed by: Makoto Shinkai.   
Written by: Makoto Shinkai based on his novel.
Starring: Ryûnosuke Kamiki (Taki Tachibana), Mone Kamishiraishi (Mitsuha Miyamizu), Ryô Narita (Katsuhiko Teshigawara), Aoi Yuki (Sayaka Natori), Nobunaga Shimazaki (Tsukasa Fujii), Kaito Ishikawa (Shinta Takagi), Kanon Tani (Yotsuha Miyamizu), Masaki Terasoma (Toshiki Miyamizu), Sayaka Ohara (Futaha Miyamizu), Kazuhiko Inoue (Taki's Father).
Your Name is an anime film that starts off as one thing, but morphs at about the halfway point into something altogether different. I’m not quite sure that transition wholly works, but I admire the hell out of the film for trying, and the film undeniably goes to unexpected places, and is a beautiful film from beginning to end. In a world that has been sorely lacking in great anime (at least making its way to these shores) since Studio Ghibli went on hiatus, the film was a breath of fresh air.
The first act of Your Name promises a body switch comedy in the vein of Freaky Friday, but perhaps with slightly more depth. In small town Japan, Mitsuha dreams of getting out – she is the daughter of the mayor, although he has little to do with her, and lives with her grandma and younger sister. She wants to go to Tokyo, and basically waiting for high school to be over so she can do it. In Tokyo, Taki is slightly older – he works as a waiter in a restaurant, and lives with his distant father. These two have nothing to do with each other – until they discover that when they fall asleep, they do really do become the other person (they had thought they were just dreams). They find ways to communicate with each other, and  establish ground rules for each other to follow (Mitsuha probably should have established some about how much Taki is allowed to play with her breasts) so as not to ruin each other’s lives. Then, as they are growing closer after about six months of doing this, everything stops – and Taki sets out to discover why – what he finds out, shifts the film from the body switch comedy into something deeper and more speculative and imaginative.
In terms of visual beauty, there are few animated films in recent memory that can match Your Name- which takes place in two very different worlds, all in the same country. The Tokyo here seems like a real, breathing city – full of beautiful skyscrapers, and the bustle of the city. Mitsuha’s small town, inside a giant crater, is something more fantastical than more traditionally beautiful. There is hardly a moment here that doesn’t belong as a tweet from One Perfect Shot.
The film takes a few narrative twists and turns, and honestly, I’m not quite sure they all add up – it’s almost somewhat disappointing when it takes some of the twists, because where the narrative had been going was original in and of itself. Yet writer/director Makoto Shinkai has something bigger in mind that that, and the way he sketches the relationship between Taki and Mitsuha really is as beautiful as animation itself.
Your Name doesn’t quite reach the heights of the best anime. It doesn’t quite immerse you wholly and completely the way the best Miyazaki films do, nor is it quite as mind bending as some of the other, more overtly sci-fi of the genre can get. Still, it’s better than any anime film I’ve seen since The Wind Rises – and that was four years ago, so you knows, Your Name is more than good enough to scratch that anime itch that hasn’t been scratched in a while.

Movie Review: Hello Destroyer

Hello Destroyer 
Directed by: Kevan Funk   
Written by: Kevan Funk.
Starring: Jared Abrahamson (Tyson Burr), Kurt Max Runte (Coach Dale Milbury), Ian Tracey (Coach Aaron Weller), Joe Buffalo (Eric), Sara Canning (Wendy Davis), Ben Cotton (Bill Davis), Paul McGillion (Ron Burr). 
From a young age, when you play hockey, you are taught the “tight way” and the “wrong way” to play the sport. Hockey is an inherently violent game, and in Canada, you are expected to play the game tough – physical, and yet not go so far as to hurt your opponent. There is a fine line between a clean hit and a dirty one – and coaches want you just on this side of that line. Hello Destroyer is a hockey film unlike any other I have seen – it is about a play who crosses that line, barely, and how he is essentially hung out to dry because of it. It is mainly a quiet, introspective film – there are lots of long, unbroken shots, observing the main character. The film is deliberately paced – perhaps too much for its own good – but it’s still a fine debut from writer/director Kevan Funk.
The film starts Jared Abrahamson as Tyson Burr, a young man who has moved away from home to play for the Prince George Warriors (I assume this is a Junior A type league – a development league for teenagers, although the film never says what it is). He is a rookie – who as the film begins, endures what is essentially harmless hazing – the team holds the rookies down and shave their heads. Their coach (Kurt Max Runte) drills into the teams head the need to be tough, the need to dig in along the boards, not be pushed around, defend “our house” – etc. In the intermission before the hit that will change Tyson’s life, he lays into his team – screams at them for playing soft and the need to step up. Tyson does, and the result is catastrophic for his opponent – who ends up lying motionless on the ice, and will never be the same again.
Funk does something interesting with that hit though – he kind of obscures it in the way he films. The hockey scenes in general – all of which are in the first 30 minutes or so – are often done in close-up, as if trying to capture the chaos on the ice from Tyson’s point-of-view. What we see of that hit is clearly that it is a hit-from-behind – a no-no to be sure – but it doesn’t look particularly violent, or particularly brutal. It is the type of play that happens in pretty much every hockey game with contact – often more than once. It’s just that most of the time, no injury is the result of the hit – and this time, there way. Hockey commentators and fans always like to talk about integrity of the game and the toughness of it – but as soon as something bad happens, we draw the line, point the finger at the person who crossed it, call it “not a hockey play” – and place the blame squarely on them, and exonerate everyone else. Hello Destroyer doesn’t quite come out and say that’s wrong – it doesn’t excuse Tyson’s hit, but it certainly does look at those who surround Tyson, who are so quick to preach one thing, and then throw him under the bus the second he gets into trouble.
Yet the hockey scenes in Hello Destroyer are only a part of the film. Much of the film looks at Tyson’s life outside of hockey – “suspended indefinitely” from his team (Tyson doesn’t realize that means forever – and no one thinks enough of him to tell him), he goes back home to his small town, with his emotionally distant father and a nearly silent mother. He picks up shifts at the slaughter house, and spends other times stripping an old family property before it’s to be torn down. He doesn’t specifically say it, but hockey was his way out – his way to not become this. Now, with that no longer an option, what other choices does he have open to him? He’s stuck, and when he realizes that, the results aren’t good.
Abrahamson delivers a fine performance – one that is mostly silent. There is something specifically Canadian about his stoicism here – the way he doesn’t want to complain, doesn’t want to show his emotions. You’re taught that in hockey as well – you play through the pain, you deal with it. Hockey players are the toughest athletes in the world, we like to say, and they don’t whine.
Hello Destroyer is ultimately about that – and what we are teaching our kids when they play hockey – or really, any team sport. I still believe being a part of these teams is great for kids – it teaches them a lot – but what we need to do a better job at, is teaching them how to handle things off the ice, or off the field. Tyson is a kid when he does something that has bad results – and no one is there to help him deal with that, or help him move on. If they were, the movie would have a different – happier - ending.

Movie Review: The Assignment

The Assignment
Directed by: Walter Hill.   
Written by: Denis Hamill and Walter Hill.
Starring: Michelle Rodriguez (Frank Kitchen / Tomboy), Sigourney Weaver (Dr. Rachel Jane), Tony Shalhoub (Dr. Ralph Galen), Caroline Chan (Ting Li), Caitlin Gerard (Johnnie), Anthony LaPaglia (Honest John Hartunian), Terry Chen (Dr. Lin), Ken Kirzinger (Nurse Albert Becker), Paul McGillion (Paul Wincott).
Veteran filmmaker Walter Hill is a favorite among many auteurists – but he’s a filmmaker for me that I wonder what I’m missing. He has an undeniable talent for staging action sequences – or he at least did earlier in his career, in films like The Warriors or Southern Comfort. But his best film – of what I’ve seen – is the movie star vehicle 48 Hours, which teamed up Nick Nolte and a young Eddie Murphy in what has become a prototypical action/buddy comedy. To say his career has been uneven would be an understatement. Other than directing the first episode of the brilliant Deadwood, Hill hasn’t done much that I’ve liked in a good 20 years.
His most recent film, The Assignment, has been called offensive by many in the LGBTQ community – many, likely, as Hill started, have not seen the film. If they had, the film itself probably would not have convinced them it wasn’t offensive, except in that the film is so goofy than its impossible to take at all seriously, which would, I suspect, make it a little less offensive. This is a film in which Michelle Rodriguez plays a hitman named Frank Kitchen – who basically looks like Michelle Rodriguez in a bad fake beard – who wakes up one day to discover that the surgeon sister, Dr. Rachel Jane (Sigourney Weaver) of one of his victims has performed a sex change operation on him without his approval, so now Frank Kitchen looks like Michelle Rodriguez without a beard. Frank is understandably upset by this, and decides to try and get some revenge on Dr. Jane – who tells the story from her point-of-view in an interview by another doctor (Tony Shaloub).
I don’t think that The Assignment makes light of transition or transgender people as much as it doesn’t consider them at all, which is perhaps as bad or worse. The screenplay by Denis Hamill and Hill himself doesn’t really have anything to say about what it means to transition or anything like that – because, after all, Frank never made that decision – he simply woke up day having become a woman, and angry about it. Frank wants to be a man again, and once he discovers that’s not possible, it’s killing time.
The film is undeniably pulpy – an exploitation film more concerned with violence and style than anything else. On that level, the film works in fits and starts, but never builds to satisfying whole. Weaver is great as the mad scientist – even if she is a tad one note, villains in this type of film are always a tad one note, and the way Weaver rips into the role is easily the most entertaining part of it. Rodriguez simply cannot compete with her on pure entertainment value, and the whole horribly fake beard in the early scenes does her no favors. This is apparently Rodriguez’ first lead role since her breakout film, Girlfight, where she played a female boxer – learning this fact on IMDB made me sad for a few reasons, not least of which because it was a reminder that Girlfight gave Rodriguez a role that allowed her to be tough but vulnerable and human at the same time – something she hasn’t had the chance to do since then, and certainly not here.
In short, The Assignment is a low budget action film which Hill never quite figures out his story, his characters or even the action – which is the most inexcusable part of the whole thing. The Assignment would be offensive to the LGBTQ community if it took its premise at all seriously – which fortunately, it doesn’t. That doesn’t make the film good however, as the execution of the film in general is almost shocking inept. I keep trying to see what others see in Hill – and haven’t got there yet.

Movie Review: The Void

The Void
Directed by: Jeremy Gillespie & Steven Kostanski.   
Written by: Jeremy Gillespie & Steven Kostanski.
Starring: Aaron Poole (Daniel Carter), Kenneth Welsh (Dr. Richard Powell), Daniel Fathers (The Father), Kathleen Munroe (Allison Fraser), Ellen Wong (Kim), Mik Byskov (The Son), Art Hindle (Mitchell), Stephanie Belding (Beverly), James Millington (Ben), Evan Stern (James), Grace Munro (Maggie), Matthew Kennedy (Cliff Robertson).

 Is there anything more disappointing than a horror movie that starts off strong and then flies off the rails as it moves along? It’s always difficult when making a horror movie when you have to explain everything you’ve setup, as there are so many ways for things to go wrong, and just a few for them to go right. The Void is a movie where it’s hard to imagine things flying off the rails more horribly then they do here. What starts out an effective horror movie, with many intriguing questions, ends in just about the silliest way imaginable. Worse still, the further the film movies along, the duller it becomes.
The film opens with a strange scene – two young people, a man and a woman fleeing a house, only to be followed by two men who shoot at them – hitting the woman, but missing the man. They then set the dying (hopefully dead) woman on fire, and go after the man, who has gone fleeing into the woods. Before they can find him though, local deputy Daniel Carter (Aaron Poole) does – as the man is now unconscious on the side of the road. He races to the nearest hospital, which is almost deserted since everyone is being transferred to another hospital. Among the only people there is Carter’s wife, Allison (Kathleen Monroe) – although they are currently separated – who is a nurse, alongside Dr. Powell (Kenneth Walsh), the kind of small town doctor who knows everyone, and a few other people. Daniel isn’t there long before strange things start to happen inside the hospital, and a bunch of masked “cult” members surround the hospital, although they make no effort to get inside. Two people who do try are the two men we saw at the beginning of the film, who killed the woman, and the tried to kill the patient. What follows is bloody as hell, and involves all sorts of horror movie clichés, although saying more would be to give the whole game away, so I’ll stop.
That setup, described above, is pretty effective. No, it’s not original – it borrows heavily from various John Carpenter movies - notably Assault on Precinct 13, which had to find a convoluted way to make sure a normally busy building would be all but deserted. It will borrow from other Carpenter movies as well as it progresses, but not in ways that are ever particularly original. There is a difference between something like Adam Wingard’s The Guest – which is also heavily indebted to Carpenter, which takes the influence of Carpenter and spins it into its own thing, and a film like The Void, which doesn’t. You keep waiting for the film to do something more, to say something more, to be about something more than the fact the filmmakers like John Carpenter, and it never really gets there.
The film was written and directed by Jeremy Gillespie & Steven Kostanski, a couple of filmmakers who work in other, smaller roles on bigger films (like Suicide Squad, where Gillespie was in the art department, and Kostanski was in the makeup department). Both also have visual effects experience as well. As craftsman, they are fine. The early part of the film is quite well handled, as it gradually builds the suspense – and even the first big effects special is okay as well, even if we don’t know what we’re seeing and it drags on too long, it works well.
As screenwriters though, I’m not really sure they know what they’re doing. They kind of write themselves into a corner, and then have to find a way out – a way to explain all the strange things that happened. They do explain it – but in a way that makes everything impossible to take seriously. The film becomes more and more outlandish, but also duller. The filmmaker abandon trying to build suspense, and just let out an orgy of cheap looking effects. In short, it doesn’t work. The Void is a film I wanted to like – and did for at least the first third. After that, it gets silly and dull.