Movie reviews

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He Never Died isn’t just a smartly written and adroitly directed story about an immortal doomed to wander the Earth. A grimly R-rated story. That’s also sort of a wry comedy. An angels with bloody faces for the post-comic book 21 century. More importantly, He Never Died is utterly inspired casting. The sad and quietly seething Henry Rollins is equal parts Black Flag frontman just chillin’, bewildered Starman, unconcerned burnout, ill-at-ease introverted nerd, reluctant absentee dad reconnecting with his 19-year-old daughter, divine terminator, and exhausted demigod. It’s a pretty tall order. While the gracefully graying Rollins might not be the most comfortable actor, there is not a single moment in He Didn’t Die that isn’t fascinating because of him. He even gets a chance to let loose with those same outraged and outrageous pipes that bellowed “myyyy waaaaarrrr!” back in the day.

Superman movies taught us that invulnerability is inherently dull. It turns out Superman movies were wrong. Henry Rollins and He Never Died writer/director Jason Crawczyk present invulnerability as vulnerable, interesting, and — bingo! — bleakly funny. And it’s always nice to see Steven Ogg let loose from behind the character of Trevor in Grand Theft Auto V. Ogg’s Nicholson-esque mugging is the yin to Rollin’s stony faced yang.

He Never Died is available for VOD. Support Qt3 and watch it on

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Matthew Fox and Jeffrey Donovan have earned a lot of goodwill lately. Fox with his efficiently ruthless Indian killer in Bone Tomahawk and Donovan with his treacherous elder son in the second season of Fargo. They’re not given nearly as much to work with in Extinction, but that’s hardly a fair comparison; Bone Tomahawk and the second season of Fargo are two of the most amazing things I’ve seen this year. Extinction, on the other hand, is just an occasionally clumsy zombie apocalypse yarn. So while they’re eminently watchable here, I can’t blame them for coming across a little flat in comparison to what else they’ve been doing lately. They’re each standing in tall shadows they partly cast themselves.

But Extinction is a unique entry in a genre that’s rarely unique. The first distinguishing feature is an unconventional love triangle. It’s Heather has two daddies…who went through an acrimonious divorce and are now the last survivors in a town called Harmony (subtle irony isn’t Extinction’s strong point). Simple and powerful relationships provide the structure, with Fox, Donovan, and the adorably Barrymore-esque Quinn McColgan as the fulcrum between them. Zombies provide the threat, but instead of shambling hordes, they’re lurking memories. They are a second distinguishing feature for how this isn’t your usual undead rot or rage virus. The final distinguishing feature is a crisp winter aesthetic, icy and colorless. The door to an abandoned house cracks open with that same gratifying ice sheet shatter as a car door opened after an overnight freeze. That cold glaze covers Extinction. This is where it lives. It is the opposite of fertility. Mother Nature has turned as harshly indifferent as a drunkenly numb parent.

Spanish director Miguel Angel Vivas’ previous movie, Kidnapped, was hollow home invasion trash with nothing to recommend it but its real-time split-screen gimmickry. Here Vivas shows that he doesn’t need a gimmick. He shows he can be heartfelt, exciting, and unpredictable, if a bit too earnest. Brace yourself for occasional clunkers like “you are so hellbent on surviving that you’ve forgotten how to live”. I can even sympathize with the zombies in that I sure do wish the music would let up. I’m trying to watch a movie here and the soundtrack keeps butting in to explain everything.

Extinction is available for VOD. Support Qt3 and watch it on

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Body stars two very good actresses and Alexandra Turshen. The best part of the movie is when Turshen lets loose with a full throated scream into someone else’s face and the movie just cuts to black. The intensity of her scream and the abruptness of the cut are chilling. They belong in a better movie.

Unfortunately, the talented, winsome, and frail Helen Rogers will duplicate the moment and it won’t work. Partly because Body doesn’t cut away. Mostly because Rogers isn’t up to the full-throated intensity of Turshen’s scream. Rogers’ strength is her expressiveness and, ironically, her vulnerability, both used to powerful effect in “The Sick Thing That Happened To Emily When She Was Younger”, one of the best shorts in the 2012 horror anthology V/H/S.

The problem with Body, one of those thrillers about otherwise reasonable people making bad decisions, is that the bad decisions make no sense. Body hopes you’ll believe that these bad decisions result from the force of Turshen’s personality as the alpha female. But being blandly pretty and merely loud don’t qualify you for alpha status. So the script makes its absurd leaps, while Rogers and Lauren Molina, the other very good actress, gamely do their best to bring you along. It isn’t enough. Some leaps are simply too far to make. Body disappears into a chasm of implausibility.

Body is currently in limited release and will be available for VOD on December 29.

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There are three reasons to watch The Final Girls, not to be confused with The Final Girl also featuring Alexander Ludwig who’s probably having a heck of a time convincing people he’s in two separate movies this year. The Final Girl, singular, basically has no reasons to watch it. But then there are all the reasons not to watch The Final Girls, plural. Most of them have to do with writing that can’t sustain it beyond a clever premise as a send-up of slasher flicks. This has been a cottage industry since, oh, about 1981, starting with Student Bodies and going all the way up to the brilliant Cabin in the Woods. But as any of those other movies know, one of the worst ways to lampoon a slasher film is by having to play it safe. But Final Girls is conspicuously PG-13 with the way it assiduously avoids gore, nudity, and more than one occurrence of the F-word. The F-word is near the end and it’s pretty awful. “You fucked with the wrong virgin,” our final Final Girl growls weakly.

The reasons to watch The Final Girls are Thomas Middleditch, Adam DeVine, and Angela Trimbur, all of whom are relegated to minor roles playing facile stereotypes, and all of whom knock it out of the park with comedic timing, admirable commitment, and more energy than this script deserves. Angela Trimbur’s fantastic striptease-on-Adderall dance routine is worth the price of admission. Just fast forward to that part. Or wait until it’s on YouTube. Better yet, watch the comedienne’s joyous Youtube videos. Start with this one. Three millions views can’t be wrong. At least on YouTube her dancing isn’t interrupted by a forgettable movie in which less capable actors like Taissa Farmiga and Malin Ackerman carry what I think is supposed to be emotional gravitas. I can’t really tell since they’re both so, well, mild. The heartfelt moments drag ponderously. Their eyes well up with tears. They look at each other. They smile sadly. The moment drags on. I think there’s dialogue here, but it’s hard not to lose interest. Oh, hey, would you believe the movie ends with Taissa Farmiga doing wirework? And can someone please do something with her hair? She’s a dead ringer for her beautiful sister Vera, but plopping a dishwater blonde mop on her head doesn’t do her any favors.

The Final Girls is available for VOD. Support Qt3 and watch it on Personally, I’d recommend just watching Cabin in the Woods again.

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Experimenter is at first about the Milgram experiments, in which subjects were tested for their willingness to electrically shock another person at the behest of an authority figure. The finding was basically that people will totally be dicks if they’re absolved of responsibility for their actions. Psychologist Stanley Milgram implied a connection to the Holocaust. The movie exaggerates Milgram’s findings, implying that almost everyone (“the vast majority,” the character says at one point) was willing to escalate the shocks to a life-threatening voltage. In reality, a third of the subjects refused to continue, and Experimenter eventually admits as much. Furthermore, to ratchet up dramatic tension, the movie implies the authority figure was unrelenting as the test subjects protested. But in reaction to protests during the actual tests, the authority figure escalated through four scripted responses. If the subject protested a fifth time, the experiment was halted.

As you might guess from the title, Experimenter is more concerned with Stanley Milgram himself, coolly portrayed by Peter Sarsgaard (Sarsgaard is so often the king of cool, which is why it’s so much fun seeing him lose his cool in Black Mass). Director Michael Almereyda can’t resist gimmicks like breaking the fourth wall, shooting scenes against obvious backdrops, montages detailing Milgram’s other experiments, and one of the most ridiculous beards ever captured on film. There is even a literal elephant in the room when Milgram draws parallels to fascism. “Perhaps our awareness is the first step in liberation,” Almereyda’s movie concludes ponderously.

Experimenter also considers the ethical implications of the stress inflicted on the test subjects. They weren’t actually shocking anyone. It was a ruse to test their willingness. The “victim” was unseen in another room, faking cries of pain. The subjects felt guilt, remorse, duress, and anguish to varying degrees before they were told it was all a ruse. Psych! Psych, indeed. Should a research psychologist concern himself with the well-being of his test subjects? Or do the findings justify the means? If you want to test whether someone will totally be a dick, do you have to be a dick yourself? Fair questions, all of which the audience will probably wonder without Experimenter’s explicit dialogue to that effect. The most compelling parts of the movie are the scenes of the experiment itself, watching the subjects grow increasingly uneasy. Thanks to Anthony Edwards, John Leguizamo, Anton Yelchin, and Jim Gaffigan for the effectiveness of these scenes. They’re far better than the biopic in which they’re wrapped.

All of these things are expressed more viscerally and less intellectually in The Stanford Prison Experiment, so this is a review of that movie instead. It’s a more effective story about the same topics. As you might guess from the title, it’s about the experiment itself, another study of the willingness of people to be dicks. It similarly called into question the ethics of inflicting stress on test subjects. With confident direction from rookie director Kyle Patrick Alvarez and a pared down script by a former South Park writer named Tim Talbott, Stanford Prison Experiment takes a “just the facts, ma’am” approach. It presents what happened, how it happened, and even why it happened (Billy Cruddup plays research psychologist Philip Zimbardo as a hapless victim of his own hubris). It doesn’t need to preach. It doesn’t need to embellish. It doesn’t need to conjure up lurid thriller tropes like the 2010 movie based on the same experiments, called The Experiment, in which Adrian Brody and Forest Whitaker bring a knife to a psychology fight. This Stanford Prison Experiment is true to its roots, basking in the hardware, the costumes, and the hairstyles of its 1971 setting. It trusts the experiment itself to sustain the movie. It trusts the actors’ light-hearted laughs to convey the absurdity of the early set-up and their performances to see it through to its conclusion.

The cast is an it-list of young male actors. Tye Sheridan, Keir Gilchrist, Ki Hong Lee, Johnny Simmons, Thomas Mann, and Michael Angarano all demonstrate they’re not just pretty young faces. Put these kids in an ensemble, give them good material, and enjoy a tantalizing look at their careers to come. The real standout is Ezra Miller, previously seen as the eponymous Kevin who needs to be talked about in the wretched We Need To Talk About Kevin.

For two movies that use actual studies to make the same point — What did we learn from this and was it worth it? — The Stanford Prison Experiment is a far better movie than Experimenter. The only thing Experimenter has in its favor is the inspired casting of Kellan Lutz as William Shatner. Will someone please spin that into a full blown biopic?

Support Qt3 and watch The Stanford Prison Experiment on You can also watch Experimenter if you feel like it.

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It can be awfully unbecoming to watch a couple of adults play at being nervous teenagers. But that’s how Lake Bell and Simon Pegg spend the first third of Man Up. It’s not entirely unsuccessful. You can’t deny Pegg’s deft charm as a nattering dork. Those distinguished crinkles fan out around his eyes when he grins and you know he’s better than this. Lake Bell tempers her comedic confidence with a generous dollop of vulnerability. And who can resist the mega-wattage of that Julia Roberts smile?

The contrived conflict kicks in awfully early. Watch the forced sparks sputter! Then the convenient split before they finally realize The Thing That’s Really Important Is Each Other. To a sappy piano rendition of The Pixies’ “Where Is My Mind?”, no less. Finally the wacky and frenzied dash to reconnect and the climactic emotional confessions of love in front of a crowd of enthusiastic onlookers. “I think you might be the blue bits,” Pegg declares at last! It’s a callback to a metaphor about life being like a jigsaw puzzle. Man Up is nothing if not a clunky formulaic script.

Also notable is Rory Kinnear, who really puts himself out there as the comedic relief. To think this was the actor whose Bolingbroke was such a powerful presence in the BBC’s televised Richard II. I’m sorry, that’s an awfully snooty thing to say in a romcom review, isn’t it? Can you tell this isn’t my preferred genre? But even I know the key to a formulaic romcom is a couple of appealing leads willing to commit even if the script is awful. Man Up has that in spades.

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Deep Dark takes a while to get underway. You might not be able to bear its glib low budget take on the angst of its struggling artist. He strings up trash like a mobile and calls it art and hopes to get a gallery showing. We’re in Portland where that kind of thing might happen. Hence this movie. Portland, the Austin of the Pacific Northwest, has it’s own film scene.

But if you give Deep Dark a half hour or so, you’ll find a story about talent, inspiration, and madness that plays out like a low rent Barton Fink, with clumsy gags instead of the Coen Brothers snap and bite. If you give it another half hour or so — if you wait until it really, uh, sinks in — it assumes an identity of its own. It certainly has a unique monster.

Writer/director Michael Medaglia shows admirable restraint and flashes of dark style. He might take too long to get underway, but he knows how to end. Lead actor Sean McGrath gives it his scruffy hangdog all. It’s probably no coincidence McGrath bears a slight resemblance to a young Anthony Hopkins. Say, an Anthony Hopkins about the age he was when he made a movie called Magic, also about talent, inspiration, and madness. Voice actress Denise Poirier brings the monster to life perfectly. And speaking of perfect, Keith Schreiner’s score has the mournful but mischievous quality of Carter Burwell’s best music.

Deep Dark is available for VOD. Support Qt3 and watch it on

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This sounds like a children’s book. “And the gun goes bang and the knife goes snickt and the landmine goes click”. Since the premise is someone steps on a landmine and can’t step off, this also sounds like a rip-off of No Man’s Land, a bitterly funny political allegory about the Balkans. Only this movie is about American kids hiking in Georgia. The Georgia that Russia invaded, not the one where peaches and The Walking Dead come from. Maybe you wonder what else the director has done and you come across a movie called 247 Degrees. It’s about four people who get in a sauna, but then a stick falls over and wedges the door shut. Then a whole movie happens about four people sweltering to death because a stick fell over. No joke. I saw it so you don’t have to. You’re welcome.

So why would you bother with Georgia filmmaker Levan Bakhia’s Landmine Goes Click? Because all of the above fail to express what Landmine Goes Click actually is. Sure, it starts out as dopey as you feared. But just when you’ve resigned yourself to watching three whining American kids standing around in a field because one of them stepped on a landmine, something else happens entirely. Unfortunately, the press materials, any synopsis, or any other review would spoil it. And frankly, I’m not sure the movie is worth watching if you already know the something else. I’m not sure it works unless you’re blindsided.

As the ill-fated mine stepper, Sterling Knight could be described as Leonardo DiCaprio Lite. He has to carry much of the movie, and he’s almost up to the task. But the real star here is the movie’s willingness to get grimly uncomfortable. It almost recalls trashy exploitation movies from the 70s, but with a focus on the trashiness more than the exploitation. I’m also reminded of the Dutch horror movie The Vanishing for how it used a haunting two-act structure to tell the story of the unlikely evil done by a family man.

Director Bakhia sees his premise and twists through to their bitter ends, and without the typical American PG-13 soft-sell. If Bakhia deserves credit for anything, it’s his willingness to coldly commit to a story about people instead of hardware. The landmine was never the problem. The problem all along was the people capable of the same cruelty it takes to lay down landmines.

Landmine Goes Click is available for VOD. Support Qt3 and watch it on

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It’s so obvious what Eli Roth is trying to do in Green Inferno. He wants to spend the first half of the movie establishing characters so that you’ll care about them in the second half of the movie when they run afoul of savages in the Amazon. But since he can’t manage anything in the first half of the movie that isn’t clumsy, trite, disingenuous, and blatantly manufactured, the second half of the movie has zero impact. It is nothing but a few unimaginative special effects. Fake limbs, fake blood, fake CG ants, fake horror, fake moviemaking. Roth doesn’t even have the grit to go as far as the Italian cannibal movies he’s supposedly homaging. The result is pointless trash without even the courage to be reprehensible.

Then there’s S. Craig Zahler’s brilliantly spare and wonderfully effective Bone Tomahawk. It’s no accident that it opens with familiar faces from Scream and House of a Thousand Corpses. But these guys are just the prologue. The first half of the movie that follows is actually so good that it’s the first two thirds of the movie. Here is a posse of perfectly cast actors enjoying whip-smart dialogue and effectively drawn relationships in a town forebodingly called Bright Hope. When Bone Tomahawk turns into a miniature version of The Searchers, four disparate fixtures of the American Western ride out against the savages. Kurt Russel’s wise and grizzled sheriff, Richard Jenkins’ surprisingly touching funny old coot, Matthew Fox’s coldly mysterious dandy, and Patrick Wilson as yet another too-good-for-his-own-good family man, this time as a literal cowboy.

The savages in question aren’t Indians, mind you. Bone Tomahawk dodges any distasteful historical realities by casting the savages as literal troglodytes. “They’re not my people,” snaps the only Native American actor in the movie, who plays a professor. This is a movie with its own rules, its own rhythm, its own progression. Four men descending from a Western into a horror movie. The violence will be simple, brutal, sudden, and thorough.

Zahler’s previous credits include the script for Asylum Blackout (my review here). That movie shares Bone Tomahawk’s brutality. But Asylum Blackout was directed by a Frenchman with a penchant for the excess of France’s new wave horror. For Bone Tomahawk, Zahler directs his own script with a measured austerity. Simple sets in bright sunlight. No sweeping vistas. The familiar sound of boots thudding on wooden floors and clomping hooves. Comfortable actors just doing what they do best. These are the things that make the second half of the movie work so well. These are the things that elude Eli Roth. These are the things that make Bone Tomahawk an unforgettable ride from one genre into another.

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A lot of the conversation about Victoria, a putative thriller that won’t win any awards for editing, will be about its astonishing technical wizardry. Fair enough. What a bravura piece of filmmaking from newcomer Sebastian Schipper. It’s exhausting to watch for many reasons, including the constant “how did they do that?” But what Victoria does even better than its gimmick is reveal unlikely characters in a story about falling in love.

The more you learn about these characters, who are one thing when you meet them and something else once you get to know them, the more Victoria pulls at you. The meandering “who are these people?” early moments eventually coalesce into a powerfully focused intimacy (the pattern is not unlike Irreversible, except without Gasper Noe’s aggressive in-your-face shock treatment). Love here is a mutually agreed upon dance with the devil, equal parts ominous and intoxicating, unable to break free of the hold of any given moment. Perhaps that’s the point of Victoria’s gimmick: to capture the heady immediacy of falling in love.

As bravura as the filmmaking are the performances from Laia Costa and Frederick Lau. She’s an Audrey Hepburn by way of Denise Richards, achingly frail and expressive. He’s, well, the sort of actor you would never find in a Hollywood production. His broad slab of face would suggest toughness if it weren’t for the kind eyes. A young Elias Koteas? That’s not much of a type. They’re not a typical couple. They don’t even speak the same language. Their relationship is characterized by verbal miscues and improvisational patter, by straying in and out of the frame, by not quite understanding how bad their choices are, by putting off the responsible business of just going home to go to bed. With such a powerful emotional connection driving the action, Victoria is far more exciting than a gimmick-based thriller.

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The Hallow opens in a gorgeous Irish forest choked with moss. An English botanist has come here to study the trees on behalf of the government. He has brought his family and a light undercurrent of political tension and environmental controversy. The movie soon segues from green to black, as the botanist and his wife confront a homeowner’s nightmare: five hundred years of Irish sludge. Shortly thereafter it really gets underway. There is no faffing about with pointless questions like “Is there something out there?”, “Do the authorities believe us?”, and “Would you like a little exposition with your horror?” The Hallow has places to take you in this Irish forest. Put a pin in the light undercurrent of political tension and environment controversy. The Hallow will get back to that. Not until the credits are rolling and not in any meaningful sense, but it will get back to that.

When you ask the average American what horror movies most evoke Irish folklore, they’ll probably say Leprechaun, Leprechaun 2, Leprechaun 3, and Leprechaun in the Hood. They might not know that Ireland has a rich tradition of stolen children, malevolent woodland folk, and faeries that look and act nothing like Tinkerbell. The Hallow is at its strongest when it’s rooted in this folklore. You can feel it falter when it introduces a little science into its supernatural. I guess that’s what happens when your lead character is a botanist (played by Joseph Mawle, who was unforgettable as the devil in the weird 2009 deal-with-the-devil movie Heartless).

But The Hallow eventually goes full-on conventional by committing to latex, obvious music, cheap jump scares, slasher nonsense, lots of chasing around in the woods, and two (2!) instances of eye horror. Just before the credits roll, a jump scare will lunge right at the camera. You saw that coming, right? Because you could tell freshman director Corin Hardy lost his way about a half hour ago. For a better movie about this folklore, see The Daisy Chain with Samantha Morton. And for an American perspective on things that go wrong when civilization comes into ancient forests, I cannot recommend strongly enough Laird Barron’s superlative short story, The Men from Porlock.

The Hallow is currently exclusive to DirectTV. It will be available for VOD next month.

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You’ll know in the first ten minutes if Blunt Force Trauma is for you. You must accept an alternate reality in which people don bulletproof vests and quick draw to try to knock each other backwards with the impact of the bullets. They do it as an underground sport. There isn’t even a name for it. But it’s totally a thing. The contestants, each with his prized pistol, travel the world looking for matches, eyeing each other suspiciously as they wait in bars and parking lots. Fight clubs with bullets instead of punches.

This is why Ryan Kwanten and Freida Pinto, both supercrazyhot, tool around picturesque Columbia in a bright red muscle car. Pinto pulls her hair back to get ready to shoot, but it’s mostly to show us the tattoo of something on her neck. What is it? I think a scorpion or something. It doesn’t matter. It’s a tattoo on her neck. She also smokes a lot of cigarettes. Her name is Colt. It’s all in the service of selling her as a tough gunfighter chick. Sure, I’ll buy. Kwanten broods prettily a lot. He has rubberbands around the grip of his pistol to show it’s worn, which means he’s travelled long and far. Yet he still has time to sculpt those abs. Implausible? Too late. You’ve already accepted that the sport/gunfight contest is actually a thing. Might as well just go with it.

Director Ken Sanzel takes it all very seriously. He uses entire songs by an indie folk rock group called Kid Dakota. And believe it or not, it all works. By the time the movie arrives at Mickey Rourke, all botoxed and looking bored out of his skull, the dialogue is as silly as Rourke’s oddly colorful boots. But by this time, I hope you’ve learned to trust Sanzel. He knows what he’s doing.

Blunt Force Trauma is available on VOD. Support Qt3 and watch it on

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I can’t quite tell if The Visit knows how ridiculous it is. M. Night Shyamalan’s latest movie, which doesn’t tap into our fear of old people so much as our vague disgust toward them, is about kids visiting their grandparents. It may be funny, but it’s not played for laughs. The real question is whether The Visit is in on the joke.

It’s disappointing that Shyamalan doesn’t show any sign of the guy who directed the stylish and effective scenes in Signs, such as the birthday party video, the dark basement, or the knife reflection under the door. At least he doesn’t show any signs of the guy who let Signs get knocked over by a wildly swinging baseball bat or the utterly tone deaf day laborer who directed After Earth. Time was he showed a lot of promise as a filmmaker in search of a script that wasn’t ridiculous. But with The Visit, rather than trusting the inherent creepiness or latent absurdity of his own script, he leans on some of the worst tropes of contemporary bad horror: found footage, jump scares, cell phones that don’t work, long stretches of filler featuring annoying young actors, gross-outs worthy of the Farrelly brothers.

What ultimately salvages The Visit is something too few horror movies achieve: a satisfying resolution. Say what you will about The Visit, at least all that weirdness is adequately explained in the end.

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When Rainn Wilson quips “nap time, motherfuckers” before killing a bunch of zombies, I think he was talking to the scriptwriters, who couldn’t be bothered to come up with a single interesting moment, joke, or concept for Cooties beyond its promising premise. Which is “what if there was an R-rated zombie movie in which the zombies are all kids?” After writing that on the page, the scriptwriters apparently lapsed into a nap, because nothing further is done with that premise. Hence this turgid, cheap, under-written, and over-cast exercise in by-the-numbers straight-to-VOD zomcomedy. I guess we have Simon Pegg to blame. I remember when zomcomedies were written and directed by Dan O’Bannon.

The cast deserves better. What a waste of Alison Pill, who demonstrated fiendishly comedic chops in Snowpiercer. What a waste of Nasim Pedrad, who has elevated a lot of weak writing on Saturday Night Live. And poor Leigh Whannell, who along with James Wan founded the Saw series. Oh, wait, Leigh Whannel is the scriptwriter, along with Glee co-creator Ian Brennan. At least they gave themselves a couple of the best parts. Cooties is especially a waste of Rainn Wilson, who gamely plays yet another bloviating clown. I cannot recommend enough his performance in the uneven but wonderfully odd indie horror movie The Boy (watch it here). Cooties, on the other hand, should be avoided like the plague.

Support Qt3 by watching Cooties on Better yet, don’t watch it and support Qt3 using the donate button over there on the right.

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If there’s one thing The Gift gives, it’s a further awareness that Jason Bateman should be playing serious roles. You might know that from movies like Disconnect and especially Bad Words, but you probably didn’t see those. You were probably seeing This Is Where I Leave You and Identity Thief. Nice work. See what you’ve done? It took us this long to get a scene like the one we get near the end of The Gift. This is the most smirkless he’s ever been and it suits him.

Otherwise, The Gift is a mostly forgettable thriller, written and directed by Joel Edgerton. It also stars him as the “is he a psycho or isn’t he a psycho?” guy, who unfortunately bears an uncanny resemblance to Conan O’Brien. If you have nightmares about being stalked by an awkward late night talk show host, this is the movie to freak you out. Rebecca Hall is the stalwart female core of the movie, left home alone during the day in a fishbowl house. The awesome Allison Tolman lives next door, but only to help out with a couple of thankless exposition scenes.

The Gift’s wind-up is strong, and it unspools a delicious cruel streak. But the longer it plays out, the more trying it becomes. Ultimately, a thriller needs to both earn and exploit its twists. The Gift does neither. The twists we can see coming are obvious and simple. The ones we can’t are hastily dropped, as if the movie had surreptitiously picked them up and was examining them while it didn’t know we were in the room, so it quickly puts them down and hopes we didn’t notice. Even the finale is timid. If I were feeling charitable, I could call it ambiguous. Instead, the resolution just gets sort of blurry and indistinct and finally fades out, just like the final shot.