Thrill seeker Becky (Grace Caroline Currey) has spent the last year mourning the death of her husband Dan (Mason Gooding) who fell during a climb with she and their friend Hunter (Virginia Gardner). Hunter tries to snap her out of it by challenging her to climb an abandoned 2,000-foot-tall TV tower in the middle of the desert. Becky reluctantly agrees to the climb, planning to spread Dan’s ashes from the tower’s peak. Upon reaching the top, disaster strikes, as the ladder falls leaving them stranded up there without cell service or any protection from the harsh elements. Now, as no one knows where they are and they have no way down, it becomes a precariously perched battle to survive.
Suspense thriller is well directed by Scott Mann from his script with Jonathan Frank. Aside from some cheesy and predictable melodrama between the girls, involving Becky’s husband Dan, and the overall reckless idea the entire movie is based on, it is a tense and entertaining flick, complete with a disturbing twist in the last act. For anyone with a fear of heights it will be 107 minutes of hard road and Mann keeps the tension going by using some dizzying camera work and the extensive height to his advantage…and our discomfort. He also keeps things moving very quickly so we don’t have time to be too critical of just how badly prepared the girls are for this trip—such as these experienced climbers bringing no extra rope on a climb—or that disabling the all-important aviation obstruction lighting at the tower’s top would surely have alerted someone to come fix it. Becky and Hunter are also likable enough to earn our sympathy, even if they are doing something really irresponsible and stupid. Real thrill-seekers surely go better prepared into situations like this…although it is partially based on a real incident. Despite the weak melodrama, and some lapses in logic and simple common sense, it is still an effective and tense thriller with some nice suspense, tension and some vertigo inducing camera shots. Also stars Jeffrey Dean Morgan as Becky’s dad.
Latest sequel finds Woodsboro once again the target of someone wearing the Ghostface mask. This time it’s Tara Carpenter (Jenna Ortega), who is allowed to live only to lure estranged sister Sam (Melissa Barrera) back to Woodsboro. Why is Ghostface so interested in Sam? Could a dark secret trailing back to the original Woodsboro murders have something to do with it? Sam and her friends have an edge though, as Dewey (David Arquette), Gail (Courteney Cox) and Sydney (Neve Campbell) have vowed to stop Ghostface once and for all!
Self-labeled “requel” is directed by the team of Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett (Ready or Not) from a script by James Vanderbilt and Guy Busick. It’s more “meh” than meta as this fifth installment is showing that the Scream formula is running out of gas and this one in particular adds little new to revitalize the franchise. Even Sydney herself claims this Ghostface is the most derivative yet and she’s ironically not wrong. Our three veteran characters all seem visibly tired of this schtick, though the new cast members do try hard, especially Barrera and Ortega. The attempts to give fan service to the original film works only about half the time, though there are some impactful deaths of series characters. There are also some solid kills, a few suspenseful sequences, and some clever dialogue, but even Ghostface lacks a strong threat and the whole film simply felt like it was going through the motions. Even the film’s reveal lacked a strong impact and the reasons for this happening a fifth time seemed very convoluted. Worst of all, It’s actually a bit dull in spots. Something a slasher should never be.
The veterans are fine, but you get the feeling they are also going through the motions and are not really invested in having to do this yet again. Campbell, Cox and Arquette just don’t breathe the life into the characters that they did in the past installments and are actually overshadowed by some of the newcomers. Speaking of which, Melissa Barrera makes for a very strong lead as Sam, the focus of the newest Ghostface’s attention. She’s strong-willed and makes a solid final girl. Also solid is Jenna Ortega (The Babysitter: Killer Queen), who has been a familiar face in horror lately, and she does good work as Sam’s younger sister Tara. Ortega is sympathetic, but also shows some toughness in her encounters with Ghostface. Dylan Minnette (GooseBumps) is likable as the son of now Sheriff Judy Hicks (Marley Shelton) and Jack Quaid does a fine job as Sam’s boyfriend Richie. Rounding out the attractive young cast are Mikey Madison as Amber, Jasmin Savoy Brown and Mason Gooding (Booksmart) as siblings Mindy and Chad and Sonia Ammar as Chad’s girlfriend Liv. A likable cast who deserved a stronger script and better movie.
Overall, this new Scream neither refreshes the franchise for a new generation nor gives it a strong finish— though if it ended here—which it probably won’t—it would be a fitting enough, though weak, send-off. It has some good kills, a few clever touches, and a solid young cast, but otherwise only seems to illustrate that this franchise is running out of gas. The veteran actors seem tired of it all and the script could have done more than put this installment through familiar paces. Entertaining to a degree, but also too slow and routine in spots to let it slide on some of it faults.
Rated 2 and 1/2 (out of 4) Ghostfaces!
Best friends Molly (Beanie Feldstein) and Amy (Kaitlyn Dever) have their sights set beyond high school and have stuck to their studies, ignoring any social life beyond their own friendship. On the eve of graduation, Yale-headed Molly finds out her school partier rivals have also gotten into good schools without making the sacrifices she has. Now Molly and Amy are determined to prove they can have fun and decide to attended the best graduation party in town…if they can find it.
Booksmart is a very impressive and stylish directorial debut from actress Olivia Wilde. The script is credited to four writers and while that would normally be a possible sign of trouble, here it is a clever and sometimes heartfelt collaboration. Booksmart doesn’t reinvent the high school coming of age comedy, but it does delightfully revitalize it. Wilde and her writers tackle all the usual high school themes like the social hierarchy and teen romance, but approaches them in a fresh and fun way. There is some wonderfully witty dialogue and the script and director don’t shy away from more contemporary themes with some openly gay characters such as Amy herself. Part of the whole reason the girls are headed to Nick’s (Mason Gooding) party is so Amy can spend time with tattooed skater-girl Ryan (Victoria Ruesga) and Molly can finally admit she has a crush on Nick. The outcome of their last night of school quest is both realistic, poignant and fun…and that’s what makes this flick work so well. A perfect blend. The characters are treated with respect and even stereotype characters avoid feeling like clichés. They are very human, such as Molly Gordon’s girl with a reputation “Triple A”. She surprises us by not only being a likable and feisty young lady, but her acceptance into Yale, too, is one of the reasons that drives Molly to want this one night of decadence. The film handles multiple characters well and aside from not shying away from serious themes, the film can be a lot of raunchy fun and there are layers of wit and cleverness to go with it, so it avoids being just vulgar. It’s a very offbeat and heartfelt coming of age story that never forgets to be decadent fun and is smart about doing it. No better example of this is a delightful stop motion animation sequence when Amy and Molly are given some drugged strawberries. Inventive, demented and hilariously funny.
The film presents a great cast of eccentric yet familiar characters and the actors all do great work under Wilde’s guidance. Beanie Feldstein is simply wonderful as nerdy, ambitious Molly. A girl who hit the books running and on the eve of her moving on to college, finds out, hilariously, that she could have had a little fun along the way. The actress has great comic timing and plays the dramatic moments strongly. A star in the making. Same can be said of Kaitlyn Dever whose openly gay Amy is a sweet, sensitive and spirited young woman who joins her friend on this one last hurrah before leaving high school to do volunteer work in Africa. There are a host of delightfully portrayed off-beat characters to support them. Billie Catherine Lourd is a lot of fun as the weird rich girl Gigi. Skyler Gisondo as the shameless self promoter Jared, who may not be as shallow as he appears. Mason Gooding is solid as the school hunk Nick. Victoria Ruesga is also good as Amy’s crush Ryan and Molly Gordon makes her “school slut” character, Triple A, very likable and human. There are also some veterans in the cast such as Jason Sudeikis as Principal Jordan, Lisa Kudrow as Amy’s oddball mom Charmaine and Will Forte as her equally quirky dad Doug. Simply a great cast.
Overall, this was a dynamite debut for director Olivia Wilde. It refreshes both the high school coming of age flick and the characters set within such stories. It has a great cast including wonderful performances by it’s leads and is not afraid or shies away from more serious and contemporary themes. It also approaches it’s characters all with sensitivity and respect and portrays it’s gay characters as simply part of the story without turning them into showcase set pieces. Bravo to Olivia Wilde and writers Katie Silberman, Sarah Haskins, Emily Halpern and Susanna Fogel. A great indie movie!
Rated 3 and 1/2 (out of 4) graduation caps.