“It Comes at Night” movie review

The Doore of Red Death. A24’s highly anticipated horror film It Comes at Night by writer-director Trey Edward Shults looks beautiful and beckons for attention, but fails to live up to the storytelling and payoff of A24’s The Green Room. Another A24 film in the vein of It Comes at Night is 2016’s The Witch, which was ultimately a failed attempt to capture the magic of a horror/mystery film and leave audiences with too many unanswered questions. The only “terrifying ambiguity” (to quote The Huffington Post), in this film, is just how terrifying it is to realize you just dropped money on a film that works better for Netflix, and the ambiguity comes from the plethora of underdeveloped plot elements. Essentially, It Comes at Night reminds me of a bad M. Night Shyamalan film (before he made his outstanding comeback with The Visit and Split) and after the successes of The Sixth Sense and Lady in the Water. Like the aforementioned era of ehh Shyamalan films, the wind up is excellent but the delivery lacks any emotional impact and you’re left with realizing that you never truly cared about any one of the characters. Character development is lacking, and the third act is incredibly weak. However, there is something in particular that I find very interesting; and after reading other reviews, it seems to be something that has escaped most (if not all) the critics at this point. That is the striking similarities between this film and the timeless classic short story The Masque of Red Death by the brilliant Edgar Allan Poe. From the painting on the walls of the house depicting the bubonic plague to the ominous red door, there are quite a few parallels between It Comes at Night and The Masque of Red Death.

Nestled deep in the woods is a secluded boarded up house belonging to a family of three seeking refuge from an unknown threat. Whatever has caused this family to live off the grid and fend for their very survival is tasteless and odorless. Forced to wear gas masks whenever venturing out into the woods and even around their own home, the family is forced to take drastic measures to ensure there ability to avoid coming into direct contact with the disease. With only now way in or out of the house guarded by a red door, the family has stopped at nothing to protect themselves. One night, the family’s house is broken into and they must decide what to do with the man and his family. Having dispensed with courteousness and generosity in order to guard against any and all possible threats, the family must decide whether to listen to the man or kill him right then and there. Their decision will spark a fire that spreads into their deepest fears.

*spoiler alert* But, the analysis is fascinating.

Okay, now I know that the preceding paragraph describes what should be a brilliant horror film, but the problem lies in the greatly flawed poor storytelling, development, and realization. Lack of connection to any one of the characters is also partly responsible for the lackluster experience of watching this horror-thriller with a hint of mystery and dystopia. The only saving grace the film has is the connection to elements of Poe’s Masque of Red Death. For starters, the camera draws the audience’s (and diegetic POV) attention to a painting of a depiction of the bubonic plague (or black death). At first, I was puzzled as to why this painting. Then as I go through the movie, I realize why. Between the constant reference to and runtime spent on talking about and showing the red door, it hit me that this film reimagined Poe’s short story and set it in a dystopian or post-apocalyptic time and place. If you are unfamiliar with The Masque of Red Death, then I encourage you to read it or watch it on YouTube. It is allegory on the inevitability of death no matter how  hard you protect yourself, how much money you have, or how powerful you are. It also contains allusions to the seven deadly sins and the fate of those who party in the wake of mass death among a lower class of people. Although I find the short short to be a stronger narrative than Shults’ variation on this reimagination of the classic tale.

Both the short story and this film contain people hiding out in a fortress. Whereas The Masque of Red Death‘s Prince Prospero is held up ins abbey with his wealthy and noble friends while the red death is killing off the rest of the kingdom, A24’s It Comes at Night features a typical American family living off the land and secured in their rather tutor-looking mountain lodge. Like in Red Death, the family in It Comes receives an uninvited guest one night. Here’s where we see some difference. In Poe’s story, the guest is dressed to attend the masquerade ball and in this film, the guest attempts to break into the home. Although both stories take different approaches to the second act, once thing is in common. And that is the taking in of an outsider. All through the second act, there are hints at something not being right–a constant uneasiness. That apprehension and anxiety regarding the unknown works in the respective stories favors. The emotional impact and psychological payoff differs between the short story and film. Yes, the endings are very similar but feel incredibly different. You’ll just have to read The Masque of Red Death and watch It Comes at Night to know for yourself.

If you’re searching for a thriller to watch this weekend, as it is rain in many parts of the country, then perhaps you should watch Universal Pictures’ The Mummy instead. However, if you are curious about how well It Comes at Night parallels Poe’s short story, this definitely check it out. Not entirely sure why it’s rated R, but in case that’s important to you. To quote Dr. Ian Malcolm, “well, there it is.”

“The Divergent Series: Allegiant part 1” movie review

AllegiantPossibly a strong finish for the Divergent Games! Of course, we won’t know just how well it finishes until the second part. Surprisingly, The Divergent Series: Allegiant part 1 provides fans with a good start to a well-executed conclusion. After the weak sequel, it was quite unexpected that the series would begin to complete this YA series on such a high note. Unlike the disappointing conclusion of The Hunger GamesAllegiant brings back your favorite characters you love and love to hate in a very satisfying ending in the dystopian adventure to rescue a people from themselves. At the end of the day, the Divergent series will never be as successful or generate the same fandom as The Hunger Games; but simply comparing the last two films in both franchises, this is clearly the superior finish (or should be). Although Roth’s socio-political themes and subtext were fairly clear, all be it still weak, in the first two films, the message is a little vague and incoherent in Allegiant. Two YA franchises down and one to go. We will just have to see what lies in store for the Maze Runner series. Just like the Divergent series has a week middle, hopefully the weak sequel in The Maze Runner will pave the way for a strong conclusion as well. One thing is for sure, Allegiant contains far more action than the previous films which almost makes the weak and still completely explained plot worth the approximate 2-hour run time.

The first part of the final chapter in the Divergent Series takes us beyond the wall into a desolate wasteland. Follow Beatrice/Tris (Shailene Woodley), Four (Theo James), Caleb (Ansel Elgort), Peter (Miles Teller), and Christina (Zoe Kravitz) as they embark on a journey to seek help from the outside in order to stop the civil war in dystopian Chicago (or modern day Detroit). With newly asserted leader of the faction less system Evelyn (Naomi Watts) and Amity turned Allegiant leader Johanna (Octavia Spencer) at odds with one another, war is brewing in the streets and all hell is about to break loose. Barely escaping Evelyn’s security team, Tris and her band are rescued by a team from an organization of pure bloods who oversees the “Chicago Experiment.” This group of researchers and scientists led by David (Jeff Daniels) recruits Tris and her team to develop a plan to save Chicago, or so they think. When Four discovers what is really going on, he must convince Tris and the rest of her band of rebels to make right what is going incredibly wrong.

For me, and I am sure other critics, analyzing this particular series, The Hunger Games, and Maze Runner gets boring. Because, for the most part, they all have the same plot, same fallacies, and similar subtext. They are all extremely socio-political methods to spread the message that only teenagers are special and are capable of saving the world from corrupt adults. Although these movies are aimed at Generation Z (anyone born after 1995), they still attract attention from Y/Millennials (~1982-1994) and Generation Xers (~1965-1981). That is important because Generation Z does not have the spending power that generations X and Y do. In order to maximize the income potential of the films, the studios have to appeal to Generation Zers in such a way that it will also bring their Millennial friends and potentially Generation X parents. Since schools are constantly preaching the message that teenagers are the future, they are special, and uncontaminated by the greed of the world, it makes sense to create films based on books that carry that theme. The negative side effect to this approach is creating a generation(s) that automatically distrust adults and their respective decisions regarding the environment, politics, and society. Just as Allegiant depicts what happens when there is such great division among a people who view the approach to peace so very differently will devolve into a war-like state, it’s entirely possible that reinforcing this division between Generation Z and X/Y could symbolically arrive at the same precipice.

The production value and design in Allegiant definitely outshines the prior two installments. That is important due to the fact that Roth’s political subtext definitely becomes a little muddled in this last chapter. Although there is definitely way too much cheesy CGI, it is far less than the previous film. And other than some of the outlandish technology used in the story, for the most part, the defense, security, and surveillance technology used by the various characters makes sense and is perfectly believable in their universe. There is even a real reference to 21st century earth’s scientists experimenting with the human genome. That helps to create a sense of futuristic realism in the Divergent universe. One of the biggest problems I have with the plot is the still unexplained history of how exactly the Chicago experiment began. Perhaps the director and writers did not feel it was necessary to provide a clear history through character exposition, but I am still a little confused as to how the Pure Bloods and Damaged became so incredibly separate. Another thing, if there are thousands (if not millions) of Pure Bloods in existence, then why use the Chicago Experiment as a method to see if a Pure Blood can be born out of all of it??? I guess that is why it’s not worth overly analyzing films such as this one.

For what it’s worth, Allegiant is an exciting start to the last chapter in the Divergent Series! Far more entertaining than the last one. If you were disappointed by Mockingjay Part 2 than rest assured that you will definitely enjoy the conclusion of this franchise. Not a bad way to spend your Spring Break or an afternoon over the weekend. But, I wouldn’t bother seeing this film in IMAX or 3D. However, I can see some benefit to the experience of this film by watching it in a D-Box auditorium.

“Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2” movie review

Mockingjay 2Audiences witness a franchise and world-wide phenomenon come in for a mostly smooth, however anti-climactic, landing. The final installment in the Hunger Games franchise Mockingjay Part 2 over-promises and under-delivers. Despite that, the continued plot from Part 1 is carried out well enough and has many poignant moments and a few exciting sequences. You will also get to watch two of the best-written scenes in the entire franchise. Instead of a continued goodbye to Philip Seymour Hoffman, his few appearances in the film actually remind audiences that the majority of Part 2 was actually filmed in early 2014 and all the actors have long-since moved onto other projects and left the dystopian world of Panem behind. The first act of the movie begins abruptly and may bore you, but Acts Two and Three will deliver some impressive scenes and generate a great deal of excitement and anticipation. At the end of the day, The Hunger Games is one of the best examples of a cash grab with only Disney’s Frozen leading the pack for the ultimate superficial, absent of any critical value, cash cow.

Pick up right where you left off with Katniss (Jennifer Lawrence) having just survived the vicious attack from Peeta (Josh Hutcherson). By now, Katniss, President Coin (Julianne Moore), Gale (Liam Hemsworth), and Finnick (Sam Claflin) all realize that the stakes are incredibly higher than they ever thought. For now, they are on a mission for the survival of the rebellion and to keep Panem from imploding on itself and falling into complete chaos. Ignoring President Coin’s orders, Katniss stows away and joins a special operations team on the front lines with one goal in mind–assassinate President Snow (Donald Sutherland). With the end in sight, the rebellion infiltrates the capital and continues to press on toward the presidential estate in order to bring the thoughtless deaths and dictatorship of Snow to a close.

Over all, the movie does a good job of bringing the high-concept plot to a close. It also finishes its run on top as other films try to be a Hunger Games but fail to deliver the same value. You know you did something right when there are half a dozen other big-budget films and parodies that are based on similar concepts made popular in the franchise. The most prominent disappointment in Mockingjay Part 2 is the abrupt start and fairly anti-climactic denouement. This film cannot be entirely held responsible for the rough first act because Part 1 should have ended with Peeta strangling Katniss before we witness her in the neck brace. Starting Part 2 with Katniss in the neck brace without having seen her in it, in the previous installment, would have been a much better choice. Her recovery from the acute neck trauma was also a little rushed. It would have been more appropriate and added to the emotional power of the film to see her slowly recover as she makes her way towards Snow’s mansion. The chemistry between Katniss and Peeta is not as well played out in this chapter as it had been in the previous movies. Not having read the books, I am unsure if that is how it is supposed to be or the writers and director just didn’t feel the chemistry was important.  There are a few tense moments between Peeta and Katniss that show a quality of writing not often found in the rest of the franchise.

Although the writing throughout the films has not been a strong point–not that is has been bad–just that it is not as strong as it should be, there are two scenes from Part 2 that are emotionally powerful and very well written. Without giving anything away, there is a scene with Katniss and Peeta lying awake at night talking. The exchange of dialog is some of the best writing in the entire series; however, just when the writers were about to hit a homerun, it ends suddenly at the buildup. The emotional highs and lows of the relationship between Katniss and Peeta are seen in this brief portion of the movie. Towards the end of the movie after the capital has been won over and Snow is being held captive in his own estate, Katniss approaches him for what would be one of the last times. She finally comes face to face with her oppressor turned prisoner. If there was one scene selected for its contributions to the film in both acting, writing, and directing, this scene would be it. The tension felt between Snow and Katniss is so think that it could be cut with a knife. Truths are told and secrets revealed that are a game changer that comes out of left field (for those of us who have not read the books). In many movies, a scene like this may not contain much in the way of class, but Sutherland brings that sense of the notorious paired with high class that he is known for.

This is it! We finally get to the capital. Wait. It is already in ruins??? Despite the fact that some of the best scenes from the Hunger Games franchise take place in this last installment within the walls of the opulent, garish, lavish capital of Panem, the audience does not get to witness the decay and destruction of the city that flourished on the backs of those who begrudgingly took from their lands to support the lifestyle of the 1%. Where is the forced transition from, what amounts to, heaven to hell? The gold and silver lined streets, turning into ash??? There would have been some critical and intrinsic value in watching the city destroy itself amidst the house of cards that it build. Instead we get thrown in to the post-war Panem. Even for our characters, there would have been immense satisfaction in watching the capital pay for the shattered lives and broken families that proved the resources for their glutinous lifestyle. Just before the war comes to an end, there is a death scene that is handled quite poorly. There is no emotional windup or climax–it is just a quick death that you could miss by looking down at your popcorn or that text message. Audiences leave the world of Panem with some degree of hope for the once dystopian society that finally has a chance at a fair, democratic, and bright future.

It is definitely evident that this franchise fought hard and valiantly to stay relevant and alive for the past few years. From what I can gather, this last installment in The Hunger Games plays it closely to the book, with some exceptions that definitely could have been visually told better. It does what a final chapter should do and brings the narrative to a close by providing a degree of resolution. Even though there are many elements of the movie that could have been treated with more finesse and better developed, it is probably the best in the franchise. Whether you only watch the movies or you are among those who read the books and then saw the movies, this film should appeal to both audiences.