‘Barbarian’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

What starts out as a bad night for Tess Marshall (Georgina Campbell) somehow spirals into the depths of hell in this one house. When Tess discovers a rental home she booked is already occupied by a stranger named Keith (Bill Skarsgard), against her better judgment, she decides to spend the night. But soon discovers there’s a lot more to fear than just an unexpected house guest. Writer/director Zach Cregger created a very original horror piece that will have audiences guessing until the very end. The same way Tess travels deeper into the basement tunnel, the deeper the story gets making the third act interesting. It’s hard to process some things that happen, but once you leave the theatre you will be changed. 

What worked was the three-part structure of the narrative. It felt like we were going through the steps with Tess while she ventured further into the basement. The film also highlights the perception of men and how they can appear to be good in nature. There are three male characters present in this story and they all carry themselves differently. Casting Skarsgard as the stranger in the Airbnb worked incredibly well-given audiences prior knowledge of his work making viewers not trust his character. Then when Justin Long steps as AJ Gilbride his story creates a new layer on how perspectives can change. It may feel a bit disjointed at first but the story does come together in the third act and it will all begin to make sense. 

It’s hard to discuss this film without spoiling what makes the third act so good. The characters are all pieces to a bigger puzzle in Cregger’s mind. How do men and women see each other? How far do men go before realizing how terrible of a person they are? These questions are placed in this movie as background noise but come into play quite nicely in the context of the unexpected visitor. It’s a fun, wild ride that is very unpredictable. The camerawork feels fresh and the perspective keeps changing while any character is in the tunnel. It’s not overly scary, but the way Cregger builds the tension and makes you anticipate what comes next is very well done. The use of lighting and that haunting score worked perfectly. 

Barbarian is a very well-done original horror piece and if you go in with no expectations you will be surprised by how much you enjoy it. If you catch the social messaging in the film, you will understand how layered this story is and why the third act is wrapped up beautifully. It does get gory, it is a bit graphic at times and some scenes are uncomfortable. The men do play their part in this movie and are the ones to give you such an uneasy feeling while watching it. The movie also places similar tropes in the film but Cregger chooses to do the complete opposite so it’s not obvious. It’s an interesting watch and will leave you questioning everything you just saw. 

‘Beast’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

When it comes down to creature features or monster movies, the subgenre has been flying under the radar. There have been remakes of classic monsters over and over again, but the original stories are always somehow better. In Beast, a recently widowed Dr. Nate Daniels (Idris Elba) and his two teenage daughters travel to a South African game reserve managed by Martin Battles (Kees), an old family friend and wildlife biologist. However, what begins as a journey of healing soon turns into a fearsome fight for survival when a lion, a survivor of bloodthirsty poachers, begins stalking them. Heading into the jungle with any wildlife is enough to make a tension-filled situation.

What works in monster movies is the creature design and the atmosphere that is created. Director Baltasar Kormákur made sure to create suspense out in the open jungle in the simplest way possible. The story is straightforward and the chemistry between the cast is what carried the movie. Some may think that because of the simple approach that it takes away from the anticipation of the next surprise, but it doesn’t. You are sucked into the location with Elba and his daughters. You also feel helpless and there is no other way to escape the clutches of this lion. There were pieces of dialogue that were planted to make you understand why the lions feel threatened and why one of them finally snapped because of the poachers. There is a hierarchy out there and once the boundary has been crossed it is fair game.

The pacing of the movie was strong because it wasn’t overstuffed with excess. Nate Daniels had a strained relationship with his daughters, and this trip was going to help change that. The dynamic between the three of them made their bond even stronger as the movie went on, especially encountering the lion out in the open. They all went full survival mode and that’s what made the movie so engaging. The camerawork by Kormákur placed you in the situation with them. The constant movement of the camera and the way he forced the viewer to look ahead worked for the suspense.

Beast is a thrilling action movie with a simple story that delivers suspense. The action scenes will have you gripping your seat because of how realistic the lion looks. There are moments where the lion is right in your face because of the camera placement, which is terrifying. Whatever role Idris Elba takes on he just exudes this natural cool swagger and is one of the calmest people in this movie. The third act does come together nicely once you realize what territory means in wildlife and how brutal lions can be to protect their pack. The make-up and special effects deliver brutal injuries and you can feel how bad the attack is. The simplicity of the story allows the viewer to get stuck in the situation with the characters instead of focusing on the story, and that’s why it works in this case. 

‘Bullet Train’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

When action films become adrenaline-fuelled mysteries like Bullet Train it makes for a really fun movie. David Leitch returns to the big screen with a really fun cast, some witty banter, and great action scenes. Ladybug (Brad Pitt) is an unlucky assassin who’s determined to do his job peacefully after one too many gigs have gone off the rails. Fate, however, may have other plans as his latest mission puts him on a collision course with lethal adversaries from around the globe — all with connected yet conflicting objectives — on the world’s fastest train. The story does get lost a little bit because there are too many characters in play, but it still does the job.

The characters made the movie go by incredibly fast to the point where you don’t feel the runtime until the very end of the movie. There were many side stories and backstories with each additional character that added to the mystery of the White Death, but it did lean towards a messier narrative. The concentration on the story slowly fades into the background once Lemon (Brian Tyree Henry) and Tangerine (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) come onto the train. Their chemistry is what held everything together for the majority of it. It almost felt like they’ve worked together for years and should continue to do so after this movie. The brotherly bond between the two of them and their batty accents made for the most entertaining duo of the year.

Each entrance got more elaborate than the last with the graphic violence displayed in their backstories. The choppy editing made those scenes intense and Leitch did not shy away during those action scenes. It will make you get into the movie because of much of the visuals you feel. The fight choreography on the train was executed well and there were some unique moments as well. The banter between Tangerine and Ladybug while fighting was a lot of fun, and made those scenes worthwhile. Brad Pitt’s character of Ladybug was fine at the beginning, but the constant use of “bad luck” being the reason why he gets himself out of situations got old fast. Even though the movie is centred on him, he was my least favourite character in the movie. 

Bullet Train is a fun action movie to get lost in for two hours. It has a really fun cast, and if you’re anything like me, you’ll connect with these characters instantly. Leitch does a great job grounding Lemon and Tangerine as assassins, and you feel for them in the end. There are three great cameos, one that pleasantly surprised me, one that made me smile, and one that didn’t make any sense. It was also unfortunate that Bad Bunny didn’t get that much screen time as The Wolf because he was one of the more interesting characters on the train. It is a fun time at the theatre because of how funny the characters were when interacting with each other. 

‘Nope’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Jordan Peele’s third feature film dives deep into sci-fi and he combines conventions to make this a unique film. Nope is different from his previous two films and it’s because he dials down on the complexity of social constructs plaguing our society. The story is a bit simpler and Peele focused on the grand scale of extraterrestrial life forms. In a way, Peele explores the food chain differently, and how animals are probed, tested, and trained to be something they’re not. It’s the expectation of a certain creature versus the reality of who, or rather, what they are. Peele did something different and original in the sci-fi genre, and he should be praised based on originality alone.

After random objects falling from the sky result in the death of their father, ranch-owning siblings OJ (Daniel Kaluuya) and Emerald Haywood (Keke Palmer) attempt to capture video evidence of an unidentified flying object with the help of tech salesman Angel Torres (Brandon Perea) and documentarian Antlers Hols (Michael Wincott). The story is quite simple and instead of telling a complex, layered, and symbolic story like his previous two films, Peele kept it at the surface. That’s not such a bad thing when the direction and camerawork carried the movie through those suspenseful moments. Peele and cinematographer Hoyte van Hoytema kept the audience on their toes with the placement of the camera. The images within the frame and how the camera moved during certain moments made the audience feel like they were in the movie.

What was so fascinating about Nope was the unidentified flying object in the film. Peele combined the matriarchial figure with the vehicle of the flying object to make that third act reveal beautiful to watch. Sure, it was a bit anticlimactic because he decided not to show much, but the story centred on capturing this phenomenon on film. It wasn’t about what the antagonist was doing, but rather showing how humans react to the unknown. Humans can be deceitful, understanding, or violent when it comes to other life forms, which also parallels their treatment of animals to a certain degree. Peele set that up in the first half, and the five-part structure with the names of each horse they had at the ranch was a nice way to divide what was happening.

Nope is a visual feast meant to be watched on an IMAX screen. Peele’s direction and van Hoytema’s cinematography make for sure a visually interesting journey through the west. Keke Palmer is the shining star of the film, while Daniel Kaluuya takes a reserved backseat for this one. In a way, they both complimented each other and they created one of my favourite sibling dynamics. Even though the story is a bit generic and the characters are a bit underdeveloped, you can still have fun diving into unknown territory with Peele. Lastly, the score by Michael Abels was really strong and amplified the tension on screen. The sound design also allowed for those jump scares to hit at the right moments as well. Peele is one of the few directors who knows how to hit those comedic beats right after some heavy scenes.

‘The Gray Man’ Review

By: Amanda Guarragi

Another action flick by the Russo brothers outside of the MCU will hit Netflix on Friday with some pretty notable stars. The Gray Man has Ryan Gosling as the CIA’s top asset, and no one knows his identity. He then uncovers agency secrets and triggers a global hunt by assassins set loose by his ex-colleague. It seems like a generic and simple premise for an action movie, but the execution makes it difficult to understand at times. It’s all a grey area which makes perfect sense for Gosling’s character Court Gentry, who is having an epiphany due to his job. It feels similar to another action hero uncovering his company’s secrets, but the Russo’s made the story their own. 

For some reason, the Russos have lost their ability to make a polished action sequence. From Captain America: The Winter Soldier they brought such tight-knit direction to their fight scenes. But, with each new film released, it just seems like they lost their way. The choreography in The Gray Man was compact and had many maneuvers, but the editing just made it jarring to watch. The sound design was strong because you could hear those punches connect and make contact with whatever they were hitting. So after the fifth action sequence, the story just fades into the background and they’re just fighting to keep the movie alive. Just because there are multiple fight scenes, doesn’t necessarily mean that it makes for an engaging movie. 

Is the movie action-packed? Yes. Is the action interesting? Only within the third act. It’s hard to keep a consistent level of fight techniques as they escalate into a final battle. They just become more flashy with no substance. Even the sweeping drone shots for the transitions and Russo’s famous bold intertext for location changes were a bit much. It may have been a creative choice, but it was overdone within minutes. The cast had star power, but they were also severely underused. There’s Rege Jean Page, Jessica Henwick, and Ana de Armas who just didn’t get enough screen time for anyone to care about their characters. Thankfully, Ryan Gosling held this together with Chris Evans. Even though we barely got them on screen together. 

The Gray Man is generic as they come and doesn’t really add anything to the genre. At one time the Russo brothers knew how to direct action scenes, but now they have declined in quality. This movie is a mindless, jumbled mess of an action film, with seasoned performances from Gosling and Evans. Unfortunately, they couldn’t save this movie from being a bit dull at times. The storyline wasn’t strong enough to warrant any scenes in between that had no action. So, audiences will be waiting for the next action scene instead of following the story that is unfolding in front of them. It’s not a well-rounded action movie by any means, but if you want to see Evans in a villainous role and a mustache, then this is fine.