Not so long ago, the term for interracial marriage was miscegeny. Today the term for interracial marriage is marriage. An important step in that process was the Supreme Court in 1967 telling Virginia, “Okay, look, you can’t make laws to stop certain people from getting married.” It would take another 48 years for the Supreme Court to really follow through, but they got there eventually.
On one level, Loving is about our country recognizing that falling love and marrying is part of the human condition. But mostly, it’s about two people who love each other and decide to start a family. The man happens to be white and the woman happens to be black. But the social ramifications, the political issues, the march of the Civil Rights Movement, and all that stuff is relegated to the background. Not because it’s less important. But because that’s not the story writer/director Jeff Nichols wants to tell. A through-line in Nichols’ movies is simple characters bearing up under the crushing responsibility that comes with caring for a family. That’s what this is. For its power, intimacy, and optimism, Loving is his masterwork.
This is easily the performance of Joel Edgerton’s career. It will hopefully be the richly deserved breakout for Ruth Negga’s. The movie opens on her face. It lingers there. Her wide-eyed openness is nothing short of angelic. Her smile is beatific. How else could I have watched so much of that dreadful Preacher series? Their relationship is a fascinating conjunction of a woman before her time and a man out of place. She is the driving force when it comes to introducing their case to the legal system and presenting it to the newly media-fed public. He’s a white man born and raised in a black community, who has learned to keep his head down. Edgerton plays him with a whupped and laconic doggedness. They’ve found their time and place in each other’s arms, and that’s where Loving finds a fiercely quiet and gently powerful portrait of everything that’s right, wrong, and then ultimately right with our country.
Loving is currently in limited release. It will open in additional cities throughout the month.
I met Phantasm directer Don Coscarelli once. It was an outdoor screening of the movie. While everyone was waiting for it to get dark enough to start the movie, Coscarelli got up and said a few words. Then he stood off to one side while a few people hit him up for, I dunno, autographs or whatever. I thought up what I would say and then I waited for everyone to leave. I marched up and said this:
“Mr Coscarelli, I just want to tell you how much Phantasm meant to me when I first saw it. You were an important part of my childhood.”
I don’t know if he actually gave me a funny look or if I just imagined it. Then he said, “Must have been a strange childhood.” I didn’t really have a response for that. I still don’t.
On one hand, it’s kind of depressing that the ensuing Phantasm movies have been so awful. This one is the fifth. It’s awful. But on the other hand, I kind of admire that Coscarelli and the original cast are still plugging away with what must be the same enthusiasm you’d find in any kids running around in the backyard with a camera, a bottle of ketchup for fake blood, and an affection for horror movies. To the average viewer, it will look like a bunch of bad CG and middle-aged dudes who stepped away from their desk jobs for the weekend. But there’s a simultaneous poetry and tragedy to Coscarelli and crew basically filming fan-fic cosplay of their own 1979 movie.
Phantasm: Ravager is available here on Amazon.com.
You know that part in a disaster movie when you meet all the characters? The movie spends an hour introducing everyone, establishing their relationships, supposedly making us care about them before the plane is imperiled, or the skyscraper catches fire, or the volcano erupts, or the tsunami comes rushing down the fjord. The problem is that these are so often soap operas of the mundane. Who cares. I’m here to see a plane crash, a towering inferno, a flood of lava, or a tidal wave. But Deepwater Horizon replaces that soap opera of the mundane with a fascinating look at what it’s like to work on an oil rig. How do you get there? Who do you work with? What do you talk about? What do you talk like (in the PG-13 version of your life)? Where do you stay? What do you wear? What do all those people actually do?
The easy jingoism felt awkward in Lone Survivor, which was director Peter Berg’s last movie. Lone Survivor couldn’t reconcile its procedural about soldiers on a recon mission with its Wahlberg action movie. But his footing is rock steady at sea with this assortment of roughnecks. The oil rig procedural and the disaster movie mesh with industrial efficiency. Compare this to Disney’s Finest Hours, which is structurally similar to Deepwater Horizon. The Finest Hours lost any blue-collar sensibilities to its cast of celebrities and its mushy heartfelt Hollywood schmaltz. It preened when it should have rolled up its sleeves. But Deepwater Horizon, which is surprisingly brutal, is willing to cover its actors with mud, blood, sweat, safety goggles, and hardhats. It doesn’t end with Mark Wahlberg defeating the oil spill in a fistfight. Spoiler, I guess. You can’t begrudge Berg a couple of gratuitous shots of an American flag. He earns it with hard work.
Mark Wahlberg, John Malkovich, and Kurt Russell wear their characters as comfortably as a pair of weathered jeans. Also notable are Dylan O’Brien, previously just a pretty face in the Maze Runner movies, and especially Gina Rodriguez, an actress from the TV show Jane the Virgin who belongs in more movies. She’s got a great combination of star power and authenticity.
Previously, Deepwater Horizon’s name evoked the millions of gallons of oil that spilled unchecked into the Gulf of Mexico for over three months. Months of news stories about the fouled Gulf Coast have a way of standing out in your memory more than an industrial accident. So I hadn’t remembered how catastrophic the event was that precipitated the spill. Suffice to say, this is a movie you should see in the theater. Preferably with a really big screen and a fancy sound system.
My takeaway from Stranger Things, which nearly sprains its back bending over backwards to homage the 80s, is that it had enough character, content, and dark charm for a cool 90-minute movie. Unfortunately, it’s an eight-hour series. So the creative team of Matt and Ross Duffer dilutes their cool movie with six plus hours of filler. Isn’t it just like TV to assume more is more?
But consider what the Duffer Brothers, as they call themselves, can do when they don’t have to stretch a script into a season. Consider the aptly named Hidden. If I hadn’t been rooting around to see where the Duffer Brothers came from, I never would have found this. So one of my favorite things about Stranger Things is that it lead me to this movie they wrote and directed.
Hidden is their only feature, and it’s unfortunately going to invite comparison to 10 Cloverfield Lane, which it preceded by six months. Both movies are about the dynamics of people in a bunker when the world above them may or may not have ended. But Hidden isn’t a pressure cooker story about a damsel in distress locked up with a psychopath. It’s a story about a family, told with three very capable actors. Alexander Skarsgaard as fun dad, Andrea Riseborough as no-nonsense mom, and an expressive and capable child actor named Emily Alyn Lind as the daughter they have to protect and sustain. The Road, minus the road.
Since it’s set in a zombie apocalypse, it has to turn into a siege at some point. But how it handles this is what makes the movie special, and here’s where you discover the Duffer Brothers can do more than fondly homage King, Spielberg, and Carpenter. Hidden shows how much heart and creativity they have, and it only takes ninety minutes to reveal.
Hidden is available for VOD. Support Qt3 and watch it on Amazon.com.
For about five minutes, 31 might have you believing it won’t be awful. Richard Brake, an actor with a great face, walks up to the camera. He looks straight at you and delivers a “hey, I’m totally a psycho killer!” monologue. He’s wearing ragged clown make-up. It’s shot as if director Rob Zombie has been watching Fellini. It’s even black-and-white. But then the rest of the movie happens.
Some travelling people get kidnapped and forced to play a game called 31. The game consists of them wandering around in a poorly lit basement. They’re supposed to survive for 12 hours while killers in clown make-up supposedly hunt them. It’s like The Purge, but without the budget to shoot outdoors. The killers have names like Sickhead, Psychohead, Doomhead, and Sexhead. I didn’t make any of those up. Rob Zombie did. One of them is a midget with a knife. Do you know how risible it is to have full-sized people armed with baseball bats fleeing in terror from a midget with a knife? Because Rob Zombie doesn’t.
The cast includes no one with the necessary sense of humor or appreciation for absurdity to deliver Rob Zombie dialogue (i.e. Sid Haig, Bill Moseley, William Forsythe, and Ken Forree, all of whom elevated Devil’s Rejects from trash to camp). However, it’s really cool to see Meg Foster perfectly willing to wear her years in an industry that all but forces women of a certain age into plastic surgery, botox, and soft lighting. She deserves far better than this artless attempt at horror.
Of course, this being a Rob Zombie movie, his wife Sheri Moon Zombie is given a prominent role that she handles as unconvincingly as ever. When she emerges from the movie’s chintzy hell, she screams. It’s pretty half-hearted. It’s got slightly more feeling than opening your mouth and saying “aah” for the doctor. Slightly. In fact, it might have been a yawn. Then the movie loses interest in itself and just ends. That’s the point when I realized that the definition of insanity is someone who keeps watching Rob Zombie movies and thinking they won’t be awful.
31 is available for VOD at Amazon.com. But so is Devil’s Rejects. Only one of them is worth watching to support Qt3.
Morgan is why I don’t watch trailers or even read cast lists if I can help it. All I knew going in was that Morgan was some kind of thriller directed by Ridley Scott’s son. The title is written in a vaguely sci-fi font. The poster has someone in a hoodie just standing there. Is that Morgan? He’s gotta be a hacker, wearing a hoodie like that, right? Is Morgan a good guy? Does he have superpowers? Is Morgan even a dude or a chick?
The price I pay for this sort of ignorance is occasionally stumbling into junk like Bad Moms, Don’t Breathe, and Mike and Dave Need Wedding Dates. But the reward is an occasional gem like Morgan, a broadly derivative thriller and a cavalcade of wonderful actors. A cast like this probably happens when you’re Ridley Scott’s son. From beginning to end, Morgan is all, “And guess who else is in this!” Then it opens a door. “Ta-daa!” It’s like a 90-minute advent calendar for people who enjoy watching good actors. So I’m not going to tell you who’s in this. In case you don’t know the cast yet, I don’t want to spoil the fun.
The script is nothing if not familiar, but there’s nothing inherently wrong with formula. Formula is formula because it works. So Morgan merrily draws from slasher movies, rogue AI yarns, Frankenstein stories, little girl assassin tropes, and even a touch of CITOKSA when Kate Mara falls into a lake during a fight scene and her smart pants suit gets titillatingly clingy. But director Luke Scott keeps things moving so you’re not dwelling on the obvious similarities to better movies. Okay, here are the characters. Now here is a terrible thing that could happen. Now here is the terrible thing happening. Now here is the ensuing chaos. Now here is the resolution, with the twist that you could see coming a mile away, so it’s not so much a twist as an acknowledgement that, hey, you sure did figure it out. Snappy, satisfying, stylish, and littered with capable celebrities. It turns out Luke Scott is more Tony than Ridley.
Blood Father is at its best if you think of it as Mel “Sugar Tits” Gibson’s extension of his character from Lethal Weapon. Riggs gone to seed, still living in a trailer, but now in the high desert instead of on the coast, slightly racist but not too racist to be the lead character in a movie about an ex-con biker tattoo artist reconciling with his estranged daughter. Gibson is weathered and surprisingly beefy. There’s a lot of real estate on his arms for the fake tattoos. He’s a recovering alcoholic whose sponsor is William H. Macy. Macy’s character is a “trailer park poet” who has a trenchant analogy about sticking his thumb up his buddy’s ass. Then an action movie happens and Gisbon’s trailer gets shot up again. Oh, it’s on.
At one point the wildly bearded Gibson reconnects with his erstwhile biker pals who are still too racist to be anything but villains. The wonderful Michael Parks is the leader of the still racist bikers. Parks has a great monologue about culture co-opting subversive movements. “It happened to Hell’s Angels, it’s happening to rap,” he explains. It’s a pretty shrewd insight for a neo-Nazi biker. Who is this guy?
Then Gibson and Parks yell at each other, each wild-eyed and weathered in their own way. It should have been a golden spike between Donner and Tarantino. But Blood Father’s director, whose main claim to fame is a stylish remake of John Carpenter’s Assault on Precinct 13, doesn’t quite appreciate what he’s got. Shortly thereafter, Gibson will shave, put on a suit, and reprise the role he sanitized when he seized Brian Helgeland’s Payback and recut it to assidiously scrub out the antihero. “Give me back my daughter,” he screams into the phone. I’m paraphrasing, but that’s pretty much where Blood Father goes. Exactly where you’d expect a Mel Gibson movie to go.
Blood Father is available for VOD. Support Qt3 and watch it on Amazon.com.
It can be difficult to go back and watch horror from the 70s and 80s. So much of that Wes Craven and Tobe Hooper stuff, so many of those Italian movies, so many of the myriad forgettable slasher films were mean-spirited and cruel. There was no creative intent behind the cruelty other than shock. It was as pointless as it was effective. Lake Nowhere is a grisly morsel that remembers this. It very nearly keeps a straight face, but it can’t help but crack its goofy Raimi smile. Not a wink, mind you. But definitely a smile.
Of course, it tips its hand early. Since Lake Nowhere barely clocks in at 40 minutes, co-directors Christopher Phelps and Maxim Von Scoy have front-loaded it with a fake commercial and trailers. The conceit is an old VHS copy taped over…well, I don’t know what it’s taped over, but it bleeds through a couple of times. My guess is the overarching story isn’t about people who go into the woods and fall prey to a masked killer. The overarching story is some kids who shot their own horror movie on a VHS camera and then years later used the tape to make a copy of a horror movie called Lake Nowhere. You’re not watching Lake Nowhere. You’re watching a physical slice of 1982.
And not the anodyne 1982 of Netflix’s Stranger Things with its running time of eight hours and its body count of one. These are the aesthetics of 70s and 80s sex and gore, these breasts, that balding forehead, this fake blood, this sickly green cinematography and grainy film stock and questionable lighting, the tracking glitches and distorted sound and popping audio. Lake Nowhere’s low-budget texture is slick filmmaking shrewdly disguised as trash. And at its heart, it is the can-do “hey, let’s go out in the woods and make a horror movie!” enthusiasm and audacity of Cunningham, Carpenter, Coscorelli, Romero, and Raimi.
Lake Nowhere is currently available on VOD. Support Qt3 and watch it on Amazon.com.
The Bronze, about a woman who was an Olympic gymnast as a child, tanked critically and commercially. Not because women aren’t funny, although that’s always an argument always worth revisiting so you can watch some really funny movies (Bridesmaids, Sisters, Election, The Heat, Afternoon Delight, Enough Said, Muriel’s Wedding, Opposite of Sex, Pitch Perfect, Sightseers, Your Sister’s Sister, Death Proof, etc.). The Bronze tanked because women aren’t supposed to be a certain kind of funny. They’re not allowed to be as vulgar or unlikeable as men. It’s as if there’s a crassness threshold that women can’t cross. Call it a crass ceiling. Not even the shrewdly subversive Amy Schumer could break through it. Her Trainwreck script and performance carefully implied drunkenness, promiscuity, and assholishness without getting too far outside the confines of a traditional studio romcom.
Melissa Rauch will have none of that nonsense. Her character in The Bronze, which she wrote, is the character Danny McBride has made a career playing (Foot Fist Way) and replaying (Eastbound and Down) and replaying again (Vice Principals): a vulgar, self-centered, bitter, unpleasant idiot running roughshod over decent people. Rauch and The Bronze wallow gleefully, unrepentantly, profanely, comfortably in the same gutter. When her father — another meticulously underplayed Gary Cole performance — threatens to cut off her allowance, she barks, “If you cut off my allowance, I’m going to have to suck dicks in the CostCo bathroom for money.” But she’s not done. Where Danny McBride might lapse into inarticulate mumblecore, The Bronze’s athletic vulgarity sticks the landing. “Is that what you want, dad? You want me to suck on dirty dicks in a discount warehouse toilet?” If it wasn’t so raunchy, it would be poetic. Rauch twists her face into a mask of appalled rage to sell it. I hold up a little card that says 8.7. But she’s just getting warmed up.
Support Qt3 and watch The Bronze on Amazon.com.
Sony’s marketing for The Shallows calls it a taut thriller. Taut is a nice way of saying “low budget”. The production consisted almost entirely of filming someone waiting on a rock in the ocean. Before that, you get some heavy-handed character development. After that, you get about ten minutes of action with a CG shark. The most interesting character is a seagull. No lie. A seagull. Taut thriller. Pfft. The only thing taut is Blake Lively’s amazing body. You’d never guess from this movie, which uses her about as well as any calendar shoot uses its model, that Lively is so good in Age of Adeline. Why don’t you just watch that instead? If you want cheesecake in your shark movie, Saffron Burrows in Deep Blue Sea is plenty taut and the movie itself is a real hoot.
The Shallows has no appreciation for the eerieness of the sea, much less the terrible majesty of its shark. It must be difficult to make a 90-minute movie out of something that should be over in nine seconds (for another example, see (i.e. don’t see) Andrew Traucki’s The Reef). I don’t envy any filmmaker who has to make a thriller, taut or otherwise, about a woman not getting eaten by a shark for 90 minutes. But director Jaume Collet-Serra, so deft with Orphan and so confident with Run All Night, has nothing but the expected jump scares and some godawful found footage gimmicks. Thanks, GoPro. And what an utterly ludicrous finale. You know how in movies a bear or dragon or dog jumps at the hero, and the hero holds up a spear so the bear or dragon or dog impales itself? The Shallows is one of the most absurd variations on that theme I’ve ever seen. It wouldn’t be out of place in a Road Runner cartoon.
Hopefully, Sony will release an extended edition that has more scenes with the seagull.
The Do-Over is the latest in Adam Sandler’s too many pictures deal with Netflix. I don’t know why I watched it. I don’t know what I was expecting. I guess I still confuse Sandler with the guy from Punch-Drunk Love and Funny People. I shouldn’t be surprised that all I get is Sandler being Sandler. Which is to say a celebrity who has long since stopped giving a fuck, so now he’s just going to do movies in places where he wants to go on vacation. Seriously, check out the filming locations for Adam Sander movies. See a pattern?
If there’s any value to be gleaned from this dross, it’s David Spade’s bewildered “what happened to my career?” hangdog quality. It’s perfect for his character, who’s supposed to have a bewildered “what happened to my life?” hangdog quality. There’s an honesty to it. But unlike Sandler honestly not giving a fuck, unlike wearing flip flops on your multi-million dollar yacht in the Bahamas and half-assing your way through dialogue that doesn’t matter anyway, it has a very relatable human quality. It’s the stink of regret, the weight of middle age, the dread that you’ve lived a life not worth living. And what does The Do-Over do with it? Belittle it some of the time. But mostly ignore it because it decides Sandler is going to have a gunfight, or Paula Patton is going to push up her admirable cleavage, or Matt Walsh is going to attempt a funny accent. Okay, now it’s time for David Spade to lie underneath Luis Guzman’s sweaty balls until a drop of that sweat drips onto his glasses because haw haw.
It’s come to this? I’m as bewildered as Spade. There was so much heart in his interaction with Chris Farley in Tommy Boy. He was so willing to lend his smarminess to The Emperor’s New Groove. He had a solid sitcom career with Just Shoot Me. Now he’s meekly standing by as an Adam Sandler movie humiliates him with its throwaway fratboy antics, kicking him in the balls, making him grow a bad mustache, sticking sausages in his face because, haw haw, a sausage looks like a penis. I suppose there are worse fates than drawing a paycheck for being a co-lead in The Do-Over. Spade’s bit part in Jack and Jill, for instance. Oof.
The creepiness factor with They Look Like People starts with the name. Who looks like people? They? Who are they? If they only look like people, what do they really look like? Let your imagination run with it. Rest assured your questions will be answered in this chilling slow burn version of Invasion of the Body Snatchers — either one — with a payoff every bit as effective and unexpected.
There’s a whole contingency of late-night call-in show wackos who believe in lizard people disguised as humans for some insidious plot. They’re crazy, right? Where’s the line that separates being ill, being imaginative, and actually being right? As the old saying goes, it’s not paranoia if they’re actually out to get you. How much can you trust the voices in your head, whether they’re affirmation tapes or messages heard on a phone that might not even work? These are the ideas that They Look Like People writer and director Perry Blackshears explores with his cast. Evan Dumouchel as a Ray Liotta crossed with Mark Duplass leading man, the endearingly Tilly-esque Margaret Ying Drake, and an appropriately bland and uncertain MacLeod Andrews.
Blackshears plays it maddeningly close to the vest, sometimes out of necessity. Given the subject matter and the guerilla style filmmaking, I can’t help but think of Larry Cohen’s God Told Me To. You probably don’t know what that is, and frankly you’re not missing much. The 70s were a hell of a thing. So think of this as a microbudget Jacob’s Ladder that relies on sound design and just the lightest touch of effects. It’s a less-is-so-much-more approach to tension. Jump scares? Who needs them? They Look Like People does what it needs to do with quiet shots, badly lit rooms, and disarming edits. It doesn’t have to lunge at you and make sudden loud noises. It’s not interested in how other horror movies do it, much less what other horror movies actually do. It’s ultimately got something else on its mind. Something far more disturbing.
Not to say it’s not a horror movie! It absolutely is. A supremely creepy one. But how many horror movies begin with the premise that greater love hath no man than he who would shave his friend’s back for him? Except for he who would repay the favor to the degree it’s repaid here.
They Look Like People is available for VOD. Support Qt3 and watch it on Amazon.com.
Written, directed, and starring the same person? Rarely a good sign. Sure, there are exceptions. But this is almost always a red flag. At least Creative Control’s stoatfur sleek black-and-white aesthetic and mostly unridiculous futuristic computer interfaces are eye candy for director/writer/leading man Benjamin Dickinson’s vanity project.
But a funny thing happens while you’re enjoying the tastefully restrained effects work. Dickinson might be admiring himself in the mirror, but he doesn’t expect us to join him. He’s not patting himself on the back. On the contrary, he’s spearheading a cast of flawed unlikable characters. In addition to his own weaselly ad executive, there are his wife, his best friend, and his mistress. They’re played by Nora Zehetner, the femme fatale from Brick shedding any sign of her shrewdness from that movie; a delightfully miscast Dan Gill wallowing in his role; and the flickering almond-eyed faux flawlessness of Alexia Rasmussen.
Although it’s a character drama, Creative Control is squarely sci-fi. It shares similarities with Spike Jonze’s Her, which was beautiful and heartfelt, but entirely hypothetical. We can only relate elliptically to someone falling in love with his operating system. Her is a parable about being in love with an ideal or a fantasy, and Creative Control wants to tell that same story. But whereas Her was perhaps a celebration of that love and its very real power, Creative Control has a more cynical take. Dickinson is no dreamer like Jonze. To him, technology makes it easier for us to be weak.
The more direct comparison for Creative Control is Jesse Armstrong’s brilliant The Entire History of You from the BBC anthology, Black Mirror. Creative Control doesn’t hit as hard as The Entire History of You. It’s not a punch to the gut. It doesn’t damn us quite so strongly as Armstrong’s vision of the future where we’re all doomed by our foibles, our insecurities, our weaknesses. Creative Control is a playful sock on the arm. But they’re both stories about about how the more things change, the more people are still assholes.
Creative Control is available for VOD. Support Qt3 and watch it on Amazon.com.
Jeremy Saulnier’s Blue Ruin was a slow burn about the conflict between ruthless people and people who haven’t yet learned to be ruthless, but they’re getting there. His latest movie, Green Room, is the same thing, but without the slow. Green Room gets right to the burn and sustains it with the intensity of white phosphorous. This might sting a little. As Saulnier lets loose with bullets, fangs, and blades, Green Room isn’t shy about painting the walls red. Startlingly good effects remind us of the unpleasant fact that we’re all just flesh.
The basic story isn’t unusual. Events A, then B, then C roll out almost like clockwork (although the strangely poignant Y followed by the absurd Z are sure signs of Saulnier’s talent). You’ve seen this set-up before. What you haven’t seen is these people rolling out these events in this place. Saulnier has described Green Room as punk war horror, which has a “you got peanut butter in my chocolate” feel. It’s a bit like Bone Tomahawk, another recent horror hybrid. And like Bone Tomahawk, it’s not afraid to unleash brutality on characters you’ve come to care about.
These character are a group of likable young slackers. Yeah, they’re in a punk band, but don’t hold that against them. They seem like the kind of kids who are smart and well-intentioned enough to eventually grow out of it. You already know Anton Yelchin from Star Trek and Alia Shawkat from Arrested Development. Imogen Poots might be hard to recognize under that bad haircut. You’ll meet an actor named Joe Cole, who I’d seen trapped underwater with Danny Huston and Matthew Goode in a movie called Pressure. I hope to see more of Cole. A handful of really good character actors — including Macon Blair from Blue Ruin — fill in the blanks admirably. Patrick Stewart makes a chillingly effective ringleader presiding over the hardcore grand guignol.
Saulnier’s concept of what evil lurks in Oregon’s forests is like a nightmare version of Kelly Reichardt’s movies, which suggest Oregon as place populated by conflicted but mostly decent people, a little too smart for their own good. You don’t expect Green Room to happen in this laid back wet chill. You’d expect it in the open desert where the heat drives people mad or in remote jungles far from the taming influence of civilization. This must be what it was like when people went to theaters in 1972 to see an adventure movie about some guys going canoeing for a weekend. Little did they know they were about to watch Deliverance.
Green Room is currently in limited release. It opens wide on April 29.
Given the strength of Matt Manfredi and Phil Hay’s script for The Invitation, I hesitate to mention their previous credits. Suffice it to say they wrote Karyn Kusama’s Aeon Flux adaptation, a flawed but overlooked gem of characterization, stylish action tableaus, and sci-fi gobbledygook. Kusama’s movie credits have mostly been genre stories with strong female characters, from Girlfight to Aeon Flux to Jennifer’s Body, also a flawed gem that has the distinction of being Diablo Cody’s least Diablo Cody script.
You might think Kusama is outside her comfort zone with The Invitation, in which an ensemble cast has a dialogue-heavy dinner party. Think The Man from Earth or Coherence, but with a director who really knows what she’s doing. Would I scare you off if I said The Invitation could easily be a play? What if I stipulated that it would be a really good play?
Although Kusama doesn’t shoot it like a play (you can’t pan across a sumptuous feast on a dinner table if the audience is looking up at a stage), she films her actors with the intimacy of someone directing a play. She focuses intensely on lead actor Logan Marshall-Green, a Tom Hardy doppelganger who effortlessly manages Hardy’s bottled up intensity. She works wonders playing against Michiel Huisman’s easy charm, not so evident in Game of Thrones, but used to great effect opposite Blake Lively’s lively performance in Age of Adeline. And oh, how she rolls out the great John Carroll Lynch, whose notable credits are too numerous to list, so I’ll just mention Frances McDormand’s husband in Fargo and Lennie James’ mentor in that one episode of Walking Dead.
Kusama also demonstrates a Polanski-esque talent for blurring the line between the mundane and the menacing. She wrings from simple social cues a sense of something slightly off. She catches you off guard and then reassures you that you just imagined it. “Yeah, they’re a little weird,” says one of the characters, “but this is LA. They’re harmless.” The Invitation smiles coyly as it slithers along the line between social paranoia and malice. Are you watching a psychological thriller? An indie drama? A horror movie?
Whatever you call it, The Invitation is partly about the anxiety of catching up with friends who have changed over the years. Who are these people you once knew so well? What have they become? What have you become? It’s also about the impossibility of coming to terms with a malevolent universe. Anyone who can, anyone who does, anyone who manages Tammy Blanchard’s sad desperate smile, must be mad. Something must be wrong with those people. Right? Or is something wrong with you? When The Invitation eventually decides, it sure does decide.
The Invitation is currently in theatrical release and available for VOD. Support Qt3 and watch it on Amazon.com.