‘Shiva Baby’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Life is all about the choices we make. Whether they are well-thought out, or out of desperation, all of these decisions make an impact. Deciding what you want to do for the rest of your life, at the age of 18, is probably the most stressful situation possible. Majority of teenagers are not thinking about their careers but they are forced to. Some know the path they want to take, and others struggle trying to decide what interests them the most. It is extremely hard. Others are dependent on their family, and some take matters into their own hands, wanting to break free from their sheltered home life. Shiva Baby perfectly displays the mind of a college student and what it feels like to be in their position.

Writer-director Emma Seligman tells a simple story of a college student, named Danielle (Rachel Sennott), who runs into her sugar daddy, at a Jewish funeral service with her parents. The structure of this film is what made this so interesting to watch. Seligman placed key moments throughout the film, and she slowly built up tension quite effortlessly. Every single time we think Danielle may be in the clear, something else would happen, and sends you spiralling with Danielle. The setting; picture a small house, filled with people, all gossiping and chattering away, while you’re trying to think of your next move.

Rachel Sennott is absolutely incredible in this role. She showed such range and knew when to take it to another level. Even though this played out like a typical coming-of-age film, it also doubled as a horror film. Danielle’s secrets swirling around the house, older women gossiping about her being a failure, and her raunchy private life creeping into her perfect family life. What was so impressive about this film was Seligman’s ability to project Danielle’s anxiety so it fills the space around her. Danielle feels it, the people around her add to the anxiety, which then creates this suffocating atmosphere for the viewer.

Shiva Baby is filled with many twists, which are effortlessly placed within the story, to make Danielle’s situation worse. The reason why it doubles as a horror film is because of the disorienting score that accompanies the film. It is not overused, it is subtle, and there are cues to show the beginning of another twist. It is intoxicating, anxiety-inducing, and perfectly written to show how college students struggle with their identity. Truly fantastic work from everyone, your eyes will not leave the screen, and it will put you in trance. Do not miss this film.

‘River’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

When someone experiences a great loss, it can deeply affect them. It can change their mental state and alter their emotional capacity to actually feel things. There are stages of grief that everyone experiences differently, and if the people around you are not able to handle these outbursts of emotions, then it is even more difficult to move forward. River is a psychological sci-fi thriller, that follows River Allen (Mary Cameron Rogers), a 20-something woman who has spiralled out of control after her mother’s death. She ends up disappearing for over a week, with no recollection of how she returned home. She is disoriented, lethargic, volatile, and nightmarish images haunt her mind.

The film starts off with some beautiful camerawork that establishes the vastness of the forest near River. The story is centered on River’s grief, and how she slowly begins to lose herself with each passing moment, that her mother isn’t with her. Her mother made her feel safe, and she was comforted by the fact, that someone actually accepted her for who she was. There are some great mother-daughter moments during flashbacks, that show the bond that they shared. The story unfolds slowly, and you get pieces of information as the film goes on. We see River go through the different stages and there is an emotional connection to her character.

It is more of an emotional journey for River. Once she begins having these nightmares, and the supernatural element kicks in, the film starts to lose its footing. They needed to make the supernatural aspect from the forest a bit stronger, in order for her descent into grieving, and her loss of identity to make an impact as a whole. It just needed to be introduced and explained a bit more earlier on in the film, so that the viewer could easily make the connections. The concept of panic attacks, or anxiety being tied to lights flickering, or furniture moving, would have worked extremely well if the execution was bit cleaner.

River had some close friends that helped her through her grieving but something felt off. Her friend Amanda (Alexandra Rose) was somehow linked to this supernatural journey that River had to go on. Or rather, forced upon her. The concept was there, it just could have been stronger to show the sci-fi side in this film. The link between grief and expressing your emotions through natural elements around you, should have made for a more interesting film. There were strong moments, and the cast had great chemistry, but it wasn’t enough to properly hit those emotional chords, that this subject matter should have done.

‘Under The Heavens’ Director Gustavo Milan Shows Motherhood Through A Different Lens

By: Amanda Guarragi

Under the Heavens explores the current socio political climate in Venezuela, while highlighting a very intimate story about motherhood. Director Gustavo Milan, wanted to raise awareness for the Venezuelan people, who were forced to flee the country in search for a better life. The second part of this story is quite personal for Milan because it was something that had happened within his family. The film is about a young Venezuelan mother, Marta (Samantha Castillo), who was immigrating to Brazil, and on her way, she meets a struggling young couple with a baby girl. Her ability to breastfeed causes their fates to become forever entwined.

The film begins with Marta on the side of the road, waiting for someone to stop, in order to help her get to her destination. Eventually, she meets this young couple who are also heading in the same direction. The driver of this truck, asks for payment, for all three of them, and Marta offers to cover the cost. Right from the start, we see that Marta is generous, selfless, and always attempts to do the right thing. This couple and their baby girl, have a very odd dynamic when they are first introduced. The wife and child are completely detached from the husband. You could feel that something was not right between them. Gustavo Milan’s direction details the exterior world scale in Venezuela and the small, intimate moments between these characters.

Milan balances the importance of the the two stories effortlessly, but mainly puts the focus on the baby and the two women. Milan wanted to tell this story because it has always been at the back of his mind,

“It’s related to something that happened in my family. I wasn’t born. My mother made a choice of nursing my cousin because my aunt didn’t have milk and she became almost like a second mother to my cousin. They are very attached to each other and my mom is also very attached to my cousin.”

– Director Gustavo Milan, ‘Under the Heavens’

He learned a lot about that when he was a child, it made such an impact on him and it blurred the boundaries of motherhood for him. He never knew how to talk about it, but he knew that it was important enough to bring it to the screen one day. The idea to blend these two stories together, officially came to him, when he saw an image of a woman in the newspaper, “She was walking along the shoulder of the road, that connects Brazil to Venezuela, and she had a baby in her arms. And for some reason, I didn’t think it was her son or daughter.” He ended up writing the first draft of the script that exact day.

Courtesy of Nanucha Films

The reason why this short film makes an impact is because of the way Milan leaves many situations up to interpretation. He shows just enough to get his audience interested in these characters and then he leaves it open-ended. The viewer gets to create a backstory for these characters because of the choices they make in this film. Milan wanted to show his audience the hardships Venezuelans have had to go through. More importantly, he shows what women have to endure, and their resilience in getting what they want. The relationship between the two women, Marta and Alice (Brenda Moreno) is interesting to watch because they both approach motherhood differently, and there is no judgement, which is refreshing.

The relationship between Marta and Alice slowly builds, as Alice places her trust in Marta. Not only with taking care of her child, but with helping her get out of her abusive relationship with her partner. It’s almost as if there was an unspoken understanding between the both of them. The gravity of their relationship is truly felt at the end of this film. The way Milan ended this film, shows how much he values his audience and their ability to connect the dots on their own. The last scene has Marta and Alice on a boat. There is a moment where Alice, who is the real mother of the baby, has to hand the baby over to Marta. Milan said that Brenda Moreno was so connected to this story, and to her character, that it was even difficult for her to let go of the child.

Courtesy of Nanucha Films

Milan went on to say that the ending of this film was decided during the editing process of the movie,

“I actually shot Alice leaving the boat, and stepping off the boat, and actually walking away. So I guess I shot for clarity. I knew that would be a difficult moment to add it. Then, when I was editing, it’s just one of those situations where less is more you don’t have to show everything to the audience. When she learns, you learn.”

– Director Gustavo Milan, ‘Under the Heavens’

Having the film end the way it did, leaves the viewer wondering what Alice was trying to get away from. She managed to get away from her abusive relationship, but why did she give up her child? What does this mean for Marta? Who has now taken on the role of being the sole guardian of this child. What else was she getting away from? There are so many questions, but then your heart connects with both women. Maybe the way their babies came into their lives, were not by choice, and they did not know what to do. The idea of motherhood is very complex. There can be maternal figures that have a better relationship with some children than their actual mothers. There is always a bond that can be formed based on the emotional and spiritual connectivity between a child and a maternal figure.

There is no right way to be a mother, or to even go through motherhood. Milan is able to show the complexities of this, through the budding relationship between Alice and Marta. Under the Heavens is a short film that will start an important conversation about the political state of Venezuela, and the importance of helping out your fellow woman. It is very personal, emotional, and Gustavo Milan combines both stories, in an impactful way. Milan is a gifted storyteller and you can tell that this film came from a very personal place.

‘Fear Street Part Three: 1666’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

We are back for one last Shadyside scare! Fear Street Part Three: 1666 ties up the trilogy quite nicely, making it one of the most consistent horror trilogies in the past couple of years. We dive into Sarah Fier’s backstory, as we head to the time of witchcraft, and the devil. Fier’s small, colonial town is gripped by a witch hunt, that has deadly consequences for centuries to come. Fier’s story is then combined with Samantha Fraser’s from 1994, as the group of teenagers try to put an end to the Shadyside curse before it’s too late. The way this slowly flows into each instalment and era is really well done. The characters are all somehow linked to the curse of Sarah Fier, and the reveal in this third instalment is genius.

What worked incredibly well in this third instalment is that Deena is transported to 1666 through Sarah Fier. The concept of possession normally works for the present time and the body is rarely brought into the world of the dead. So it was a really nice change of events. We see that majority of the characters from the first two films are also in this third one. Doing this allows the audience to remain familiar with the faces while telling a new story, so that the emotional connection that was previously established could carry through.

The structure of Sarah Fier’s story was interesting because of the queer representation in 1966. Relationships were kept hidden, or were called abnormal; those who were queer were automatically linked to the devil. Fier’s story became rather important once we found out what had actually happened to her. It took one person, a town filled with misogynists and loyal Christian followers to create a false narrative. This all ties together at the end of Sarah Fier’s story, there was a Saw-like montage, showing the audience everything they missed in the trilogy. Once the audience goes back with Deena to 1994 they know what the plan is to end the curse for good.

Fear Street Part Three: 1666 has a sinister atmosphere from the start and authentically presents 1666. The score was disorienting and reminded me of Hereditary, there were plenty of animals used, flies were very prominent, and the essence of the devil around the townsfolk was felt. The violence and gore in this third instalment was subtle, but effective. The fun, fancy kills, were brought in at the end in 1994, which made complete sense. All in all, this trilogy had a perfect release strategy from Netflix, allowing this to become one of their best properties in their library.

Oh, and don’t worry, there could be another sequel… I wonder where they will go next?!

‘Gunpowder Milkshake’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

What can be said about Gunpowder Milkshake?

Well, it does bring the neon lights with some style and cool fight choreography. It has a solid soundtrack, and a fantastic cast of women, but it still falls short. We open on Sam (Karen Gillan) who is on a job for her boss Nathan (Paul Giamatti). It looks cool, sleek, and feels like its neo-noir with a modern action movie spin to it. The combination of those genres can only work if the script is strong, and sadly, this was a little too simple for my liking. They stretched a simple concept really thin. It didn’t have enough substance to match the flashy style of the lighting and camerawork.

What was the most upsetting is that Karen Gillan gave the most bland, internal performance I’ve seen in a while. It’s hard to lead a film if you are emotionless and stiff the entire time, rarely giving anything for your co-stars to even work with. You have absolute legends like Angela Bassett, Carla Gugino, Lena Headey, and Michelle Yeoh in this film, that were barely giving anything, and they still outperformed the lead of the film. It is hard to sit through this, knowing that those four actresses are there, waiting for the final battle, when they could have been scattered throughout the film.

The concept was there but the execution was disappointing. It was great to see an all female cast in an action film but they underused them as well. We have Sam, whose mother (Lena Headey) abandoned her at a young age do go do a job. Then 15 years later, Sam takes on her mothers hitman job and works for ‘The Firm’ with Nathan. She ends up whacking the henchmen of another big boss and he wants to get even. Very straightforward, had so much potential to be a fun, action film, but the entire second act was painfully boring. The highlight was when Sam went to the “library”, and there she meets Yeoh, Gugino and Bassett. She needed books, and in those books, there were different guns.

Gunpowder Milkshake had so much going for it, but it fell victim to having a wicked trailer, that had every good part of the movie in it. I had so much hope for this film because of this all-star cast but I was really disappointed with it. There were great action sequences but some of them ran long and felt really generic. There were choices made that lasted longer than it should have and that is what makes it a drag. There are ways to make something unique, play it up, and then know when to fold them. Sadly, this film is the lowest blow for me this year because of how hyped I was for it.