In this reboot of Phase 2, I've spent most evenings watching a movie. And though I've really enjoyed a lot of them, many of them are great genre films that don't leave me with much to say. But I felt this itch to at least write something about them, because my brain has been so broken by reviewing that I don't feel like I've watched a movie unless I've processed it through writing.
So here are some flash reviews, some quick thoughts about these movies and why you should maybe watch them. Spoiler Free!
The Block Island Sound
Like many of the other movies on this list, The Block Island Sound is a horror movie that presents one weird supernatural thing to actually examine something very real and relatable. In the case of The Block Island Sound, writer-director-brothers, Kevin & Matthew McManus, look at masculinity, vulnerability, and pride on the small Block Island, just off of Rhode Island. What's marvelous about this movie is that these themes sit in the back; this is not a movie that uses its characters to make a point; instead, we understand the characters' often frustrating decisions because these ideas inform their personality. The anchor of the film is its central fishing family, with a wonderfully unique father-son dynamic between aging father Tom and his cantankerous son, Harry. Rather than present a resentful son and dismissive father, Harry and Tom are bonded in their decision to stay in Block Island while the rest of the family has left them for the city. And when things start to turn south, that relationship becomes our lens through which we watch Block Island.
The film knows how to linger, constantly implying the sense of something nasty in the background. Its pacing suffers slightly for it, but for the patient viewer, this is a good character-driven horror movie, that's willing to make some bold choices.
Of the films I watched, Gareth Evans' Apostle was my most anticipated. Evans is the director behind The Raid films, two movies with arguably the best and most clear fight cinematography and choreography of all time. And leading the film is Dan Stevens, an actor who has shown his ability to bring nuance to an action-driven character in Adam Wingard's The Guest.
But something just didn't seem to click.
In the movie, Stevens is tasked with infiltrating a cult to retrieve his kidnapped sister. It's an exciting premise, especially when Stevens' conniving hero starts to realize the cult's fantastical religion actually has some kernels of truth. But things start to get muddled as the film chooses to focus on the cult's internal politics. The struggle for power is nowhere as interesting as Stevens' character, nor the cult's fixation with the island's greenery. Eventually, there is that signature Evans' gory bloodbath, but it feels out of place, dropped into the wrong movie.
Undoubtedly, there are some great ideas in the movie. But ultimately, it suffers from its bloated run-time and fails to leave a mark on the viewer.
I've already briefly mentioned it in The Block Island Sound review, but some of my favourite types of movies, are when a human, down-to-earth experience is attacked from a new fantastical angle. The Ritual does this impeccably, following four grieving friends as they go off the trail in a Scandinavian forest. The best horror films are incredibly competent at efficiently communicating characters, and The Ritual proves that in spades. The four men's relationship is such a complex web of tension and chemistry. I know I'm in for a good time when the conversations between characters before the blood-letting and body-spearing are already fascinating to watch, purely because of the history between these characters.
And that's not even starting on the art design. Without spoilers, this film is able to balance two very different halves, and eventually brings them into direct contradiction. Their depiction of the supernatural is so evocative and well-imagined that it manages to achieve that lofty ideal of horror: it is something that you can literally understand but every time you see it again, you end up rediscovering something horrifying. I am still thinking about the art design for this movie, weeks later.
My only caveat is that this movie gets a little gory. But if you can take that, this is a great romp into those unholy Northern woods.
The Vast of Night
This is an absolute knock-out of a movie. Framed as an extended Twilight Zone episode, The Vast Of Night goes above and beyond its initial premise crafting a formally complex and adroitly stitched narrative. I really don't want to say too much about this one, other than that at one point, it will cut to black for 10 minutes, and you won't even mind. Of all the movies on this list, it is the one I am most upset about not being able to watch in cinemas.
If you're not sure about horror but love the craft of filmmaking, this is my biggest recommendation on the list.
Love and Monsters
Love and Monsters is a serviceable blockbuster, like the kind they used to make, the kind your class would book a whole row for and watch in your smelly uniforms. It's an original intellectual property that's never going to push you too hard. It trots happily along, with some zany interjections, and fulfills on its promise: Love and Monsters will entertain you for its duration. There's no gaps, especially not with its performances, featuring a very likeable Dylan O'Brien. This is a movie put on, watch for 90 minutes, let it flow over, and you really won't mind.
The Mitchells vs the Machines
Pure joy! This movie is bursting at the seams in every frame with detail and ludicrousness. It's a frenetic ride of a movie that, like all things Phil Lord and Chris Miller touch, is genuinely funny. Their off-kilter, improvisational-based brand of comedy is absolutely essential in an age where the most you can hope from a joke in a kids movie is someone saying "did he just say what I think he said?" or a CGI pig breakdancing. And the movie's got a real punch to it too! It's able to deftly navigate this new digital era, pointing to trends of disposability and disconnection, without condescending to a new generation who understand the world in a very different way. In the hands of lesser filmmakers, this movie would have solely been about the perils of our little glowing screens and the joys of the outdoors. Instead, they're able to toe the line between and craft a heartfelt narrative about this family of eccentrics.