The Family That Slays Together Week – Hidden (2015)

Welcome to Horror Movie Month here at Late to the Theater! Once a year we focus on one of our absolute favorite things, horror movies! For the entire month of October we’ll review at least two movies a week, some old, some new, and usually fitting into a weekly theme. So pop the corn, pour yourself a glass of whatever, and come along for the ride! I’ll do my best to avoid spoilers!

Hola, and welcome to The Family That Slays Together Week here at Late to the Theater, a week dedicated to – you guessed it– families in peril! We’re looking at movies that imperil those most complex of situations, the family, in apocalypses both zombie and not. So sit back, relax, and stop touching your brother/sister/cousin/dog/whatever or so help me I will turn this car RIGHT AROUND.

As always, There Will Be Spoilers below the cut.

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Hidden, 2015

As mentioned in Monday’s entry Cargo, there’s such a glut of post-apocalyptic media in the world that it takes something extra special to grab one’s attention. While scrolling through Amazon’s horror offerings one night, three things about Hidden (2015) leapt out:

  • Written and directed by the Duffer Brothers, well known these days for blockbuster hit Stranger Things
  • A Skarsgard – Alexander! My favorite Skarsgard — until I remember Bill is also my favorite
  • Family survival

Ray (Skarsgard), Claire (Andrea Riseborough), and Zoe (Emily Alyn Lind) are a family fortunate enough to have happened upon a bomb shelter. Their routine is rigid: sleep is important, canned food is rationed to make it last as long as possible, Ray keeps watch at times, and Claire gives Zoe educational lessons. Meaningful rituals relieve the boredom and mark the days, such as making the daily hashtag on the wall (301 so far) and taking ‘trips’ where Ray narrates imaginary outings to Zoe.  Ray insists the family wear shoes at all times.

And always, always, they listen for signs of Breathers – gasping, throat-rattling creatures who prowl the surface in search of prey.

Fans of the Duffers’ Stranger Things will encounter notes common to both: an intelligent female child who has hidden strengths; suburban landscapes burned and blasted into unfamiliar and menacing shapes, a la Silent Hill; the military as an amorphous, untrustworthy entity. Ray even presents a warm and caring father figure a bit similar to Hopper. In a refreshing change from Stranger Things, there’s Claire, a strong and uncompromising maternal figure.

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A complaint – when rocks fall on your car, do not walk TOWARD the danger.

There’s a lot to like in Hidden –  a tightly written story, balanced and well-acted characters, decent production value, and effective use of  tension as well as a few well-placed jump scares. Skarsgard as a dad is a joy to watch (keep an eye out for his silly English matron accent). In Lind’s performance, the Duffers show again they have a great eye for spotting and working with talented kids. The actors look suitably disheveled and filthy, as they have gone almost a year without a bath. Riseborough’s hair in the bunker scenes looks like it washed up on a beach, and the light does her lovely face no favors, either.

See it if you’re patient with slow-burn thriller/horror, but not if you’re looking for lots of loud scares and pithy dialogue. This is horror aimed at a more mature, discerning audience and won’t appeal to everyone.

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In Theaters Now: Boundaries

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Christopher Plummer and Vera Farmiga

Boundaries is a dramedy about single mother Laura (Vera Farmiga) taking her estranged father Jack (Christopher Plummer) and socially awkward son Henry (Lewis Macdougall) on an involuntary road trip. Jack is crotchety and wasn’t emotionally present for Laura’s childhood, Henry draws people naked (which everyone reacts to as if he is a budding serial killer) and gets expelled from school, and Laura hoards animals and doesn’t believe in herself.

As dysfunctional family comedies go, Boundaries presents nothing new in the trope, which would be fine if only it weren’t working so hard to tug at the heartstrings. With the exception of Plummer, a delightful appearance by Christopher Lloyd, and another by Kristen Schaal as Laura’s sister JoJo, there really aren’t enough likable characters to draw in the viewer.  Laura is at times shrill and self-centered when she is supposed to be sympathetic, Henry is sullen, and Jack is emotionally distant, offering arch commentary on Laura’s mistakes even as he strongarms his grandson into helping him sell weed. Yes, there is a weed angle.

You can probably guess how the film ends, but spoilers will still appear below the cut, as always.

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In Theaters Now: A Quiet Place

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Shhhh….

After all the buzz surrounding it and a few recommendations from friends, I decided to see A Quiet Place in theaters. Being a horror fan, how could I not?

What A Quiet Place does well, it does very well. Tension draws out and there are genuine emotional scenes with real payoff, such as those moments when a character is finally, finally able to scream or even speak. However, I admit to being underwhelmed.

I am not saying this film was bad; far from it. I would rank it as above average for a mainstream Hollywood horror movie, which any horror fan will recognize as damning praise. From a technical filmmaking perspective, it was beautiful: John Krasinski, who stars and also directs, knows how to frame beautiful compositions, how to work with ambient lighting, how to film action so it’s exciting and tension so it’s heart-pumping, and how to draw evocative performances from his actors. The creatures look cool and their CGI is great.

As mentioned, the actors’ performances are strong, and there are several character moments that really resonate. Krasinski is great as a patient paternal figure, Emily Blunt is his tired, blonde, and eventually pregnant wife, Millicent Simmonds and Noah Jupe as the children work well together and the whole ensemble effectively portrays a nuclear family.

Most filmgoers and horror fans will enjoy the jump scares and leave the movie rattled, but I found myself frustrated by the end. There were a number of weaknesses that leapt out and jarred me right out of the narrative, and created what ultimately felt like a missed opportunity.

A more detailed unpacking appears below the cut. As always, there will be spoilers.

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Foxtrot (2017)

This review comes courtesy of Sony Pictures Classics, from whom I received a screener. I was not paid or compensated for this review in any way. 

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Poster

By looking at the poster for Foxtrot, you might draw a few conclusions on the subject, such as life in the midst of war. You would be correct in doing so, but of course the film is much, much more complex than that and honestly I would be at a loss how best to suggest the film’s complexity be expressed in its press material.

In the simplest terms, the movie is an Israeli war drama about the effects of a young soldier’s death on his family. That alone would have held my interest, as war and its cost, when deftly handled, is fascinating enough. However, Foxtrot was not content to showcase such a straightforward premise and instead dives deep into family dynamics and personal demons.

It was warmly received at Venice and the Toronto International Film Festival, where it won awards, but for some reason did not receive an Oscar nomination. Politics may come into play, as it depicts the Israeli Defense Force committing a problematic crime against Arabic people, and so the film was denounced by Israel’s Minister of Culture. There are much, much smarter people out there who can speak to the complexities of this subject, and I will willingly admit to ignorance on many of these issues.

Foxtrot, named for both the dance and the Nato phonetic alphabet, is not a light movie but it was a brilliant depiction of loss and raw emotions.

As always, spoilers below the cut.

Continue reading “Foxtrot (2017)”