REVIEW: SEARCHING (2018)

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SEARCHING (2018)

Mystery thriller finds widower David Kim (John Cho) frantically searching for his teenage daughter Margot (Michelle La) who has gone missing. The entire story takes place on his laptop and phone, as he desperately searches all her social media sites for clues to where she went or who might know where she is. More frightening to David, aside from her disappearance, is that he may not have known his daughter at all.

Flick is not the first movie to take place entirely on a computer, but is one of the better ones thanks to skillful direction from Aneesh Chaganty from his clever script co-written with Sev Ohanian. The film starts out introducing us to the Kims, quickly etching out a portrait of a loving family, that is devastated by the loss of wife and mother Pam (Sara Sohn). We then get a single father trying to do what’s best for his daughter when, out of nowhere, she vanishes. It now evolves into a tense and suspenseful mystery as David tries to track down his daughter through social media, as a police detective (Debra Messing) investigates. For a movie that takes place entirely digital, Chaganty finds some clever ways to let us find out information, while still keeping us as in the dark as David as to where Margot went. Did she run away?…or worse? There are a few red herrings and if the film has an Achilles Heel, it’s that after putting us…and David…through a lot to get to it’s conclusion, it gets a bit convoluted in order to give it a crowd pleasing ending. It gets a bit dark and then has to juggle a somewhat far-fetched late story development in order to end things with a less grim and more safe Hollywood finale. Otherwise, this is a very entertaining and involving thriller with strong work from it’s leading man.

The cast is very small with many characters only appearing in quick video clips or photos such as Margot herself and her mother. John Cho gives a very strong and heartfelt performance as a slightly overprotective dad frantically searching for his daughter. Cho is both sympathetic and tenacious as he tries to track down Margot, refusing to believe the police and public…once the case goes viral…that Margot is dead or run away. A strong performance by Cho. Debra Messing is also good as a women who is both detective and a mother herself and the character fits well into the framework of the story. The only other character that has a steady amount of screen time is Joseph Lee as David’s stoner brother Peter, with whom David frequently confides in.

Overall, this was a very entertaining thriller. It’s social media setting is no longer new, but Aneesh Chaganty uses it cleverly and directs his cast and story very well. It’s suspenseful and intense and if it lets it’s build-up down a bit, it’s in a last act turn away from the dark path it was headed, taking the film away from a more realistic and grim ending in order to play it safe. Otherwise this was a solid mystery thriller with strong work from John Cho.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) laptops.

 

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REVIEW: SUMMER OF 84 (2018)

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SUMMER OF 84 (2018)

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80s set flick is from Turbo Kid makers François Simard, Anouk Whissell and Yoann-Karl Whissell and takes place in the small town of Ipswich, Oregon where normally nothing happens. The area, however, has been plagued with the disappearances of some teenage boys and now a killer dubbed The Cape May Slayer is taking credit. Ipswich teen Davey (Graham Verchere) is convinced his cop neighbor, Officer Mackey (Rich Sommer) is responsible. Determined to save themselves and their neighborhood, Davey and friends Tommy (Judah Lewis), Curtis (Cory Gruter-Andrew) and Woody (Caleb Emery) decide to gather enough evidence to bring him down.

Simard and the Whissells direct from a well-written script by Stephen J. Smith and Matt Leslie and give this mystery/thriller loads of atmosphere, aside from it’s wonderfully nostalgic 80s feel. It’s like one of those teen-centric buddy movies from the 80s like Stand By Me, but with the brooding atmosphere and last act right out of an 80s slasher. While Turbo Kid paid homage to the low budget Road Warrior rip-offs that permeated much of the decade, this one recreates an 80s coming of age movie that’s been cross-bred with a slasher flick and the mix works perfectly. The tropes are all present, including our young hero Davey crushing on his former babysitter, Nikki (Tiera Skovbye) and finding she likes him back and a climax that leaves us unsettled long after the credits roll. This trio knows their 80s and they also know how to deftly create a homage while still making their own film. By the very nature of being a homage we’ve seen a lot before, but it is the love and respect given the recreation of the beloved elements that makes it work so well. It also knows our familiarity with these scenarios and is not afraid to play a little with our expectations, too. We get a likable group of young guys to get behind and the makers are not afraid to put them…and the audience…through the ringer once the last act kicks into intense gear. Add to that some nice nostalgic cinematography by Jean-Philippe Bernier and a great electronic score by Le Matos and you have not only return to a style of filmmaking that inspired many of today’s talent, but a successful mystery/thriller in it’s own right.

The cast of relative unknowns are really effective. Graham Verchere is a very likable, yet realistic teen. He has an overactive imagination and a crush on the slightly older girl-next-door and an obsession that his neighbor is a killer. A classic character, but one given enough of his own personality to avoid being a cliché. Lewis, Gruter-Andrew and Emery also accomplish the same with their characters taking the classic delinquent, geek and “fat kid”, respectively and making them more than the stereotype characters they represent. Rich Sommer is also good as Officer Mackey. The actor makes him nice enough to have us doubt Davey one moment, yet also gives him a subtle creepiness that makes you think that maybe Davey is right after all. Rounding out the main cast is pretty Tiera Skovbye as sassy girl-next-door Nikki, a character also given enough emotional depth from the actress and script to transcend the cliché she could have been. The flick’s script gives each character some emotional resonance and thus a good cast a solid base to work with.

Overall, this was a really good homage to a unique age of movies that was the 80s. It had all the tropes very well recreated, yet as a mystery and thriller was quite effective on it’s own, aside from the nostalgic 80s setting. The script gives the characters some dimension and depth while putting them through the paces of a coming of age movie intertwined with a slasher. If you are a fan of 80s flicks or are old enough to have seen a lot of these flicks during that era, this movie is both a nostalgic treat and a chilling and intense thriller, that’s not afraid to play with your expectations at times.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3and 1/2 80s style walkie talkies.

 

 

 

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BARE BONES: MARROWBONE (2017)

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MARROWBONE (2017)

Film takes place in the late 60s and finds an ailing mother (Nicola Harrison) traveling, with her four children, to the United States to her ancestral home to escape her husband. When the mother dies, eldest son Jack (George MacKay) decides to hide her death till he turns twenty-one and can take custody of his three siblings (Matthew Stagg, Charlie Heaton and Mia Goth). Now alone in the house, the four must deal with something that dwells in the abandoned home with them…is it something supernatural, or a dark secret that has taken a life of it’s own.

Written and directed by Sergio G. Sánchez this is an atmospheric mystery/thriller in the spirit of flicks like The Others and The Orphanage. We know something isn’t right in the house as the kids cover up mirrors and little Sam (Stagg) is convinced it is the ghost of their father, a cruel man who they say is now dead. We also have seen enough flicks like this to have our own suspicions, as to who or what lurks in the bricked-up attic. Once the credits role and the secrets are revealed, it is effective, though we have already figured out parts of it and aren’t exactly surprised at the rest. The very ending itself also doesn’t quite sit well, either, as we question a certain character’s choices. An atmospheric mystery, though one that doesn’t quite take us by surprise as we would have liked and does leave some questions as it concludes. Also stars Anya Taylor-Joy (The Witch, Split) as pretty neighbor, Allie, who takes in interest in Jack.

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: DIG TWO GRAVES (2014)

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DIG TWO GRAVES (2014)

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Not really a horror film, but more like a rural mystery/thriller with a thin layer of the supernatural. The film takes place in a community in the Illinois mountains in 1977 and finds young Jake (Samantha Isler) mourning the loss of her brother Sean (Ben Schneider), who drowned while diving into a local quarry. A tragic event for which Jake feels guilty. Three mysterious men appear to Jake and tell her that they have the power to bring Sean back, but someone must take his place, namely her classmate Willie (Gabriel Cain). Unknown to the girl, the motivations of these men involve Jake’s sheriff grandfather (Ted Levine) and a possible quest for revenge that’s taken 30 years to unfold.

This is an impressive debut from Hunter Adams from a script by he and Jeremy Phillips, that is loaded with atmosphere. The film plays like a dark fable as we start out with a glimpse of something awful taking place in 1947 then are introduced to Jake thirty years later as she loses her only sibling. From then on we meet the mysterious Wyeth (Troy Ruptash) and his two brothers, who claim to have the power to bring Sean back…but at a price. As we progress forward with Jake’s moral dilemma, Adams also takes us back thirty years with flashback’s told through the eyes of her grandfather Sheriff Waterhouse (Levine) to slowly, over the course of the film, reveal what got us to this point and how all the dots connect. It’s all done with the aura of  dark magic and something slightly supernatural going on and in just the right doses to keep us on edge, but not tip into full blown horror. The film stays somewhat grounded in reality which makes the moments that hint of something otherworldly all the more unnerving. The film sometimes evoked the rural set Winter’s Bone, but with a hint of dark fantasy that keeps us uneasy throughout. It takes till the very last scenes for all the pieces to come together and the climax will stay with you after the film is over.

Adams also gets very good work from his cast, especially his two leads. Veteran Ted (Silence Of The Lambs) Levine is very strong as Jake’s grandfather Sheriff Waterhouse and really creates an effective portrayal of a good man haunted by past events and wanting to protect his granddaughter from them. Samantha Isler gives a powerful performance as a young teen wanting to correct something she feels is her fault, but tormented by the moral implications of it’s solution. The young actress is a talent to keep an eye on. There is also Troy Ruptash as the creepy Wyeth. Ruptash gives the man a sense of power and menace with an aura of someone with dark powers beyond being just potentially lethal. Rounding out is Danny Goldring as former Sheriff Procter. Procter is a man with skeletons in his closet, skeleton’s he might kill to keep hidden and Goldring gives him that sense of a man desperate to keep something hidden.

This was an atmospheric thriller with a constant feeling of foreboding and an undercurrent of dark magic and possibly the supernatural. It’s a slow burn mystery that unravels at a deliberate pace and takes you on a journey both forward and backward in time to tell us it’s complete story. It has some very strong guidance from it’s first time director and excellent work from a good cast to punctuate the script and direction. The film was first released at film festivals in 2014 and finally has gotten a limited release and the attention it deserves thanks to Executive Producer Larry Fessenden! Highly recommended!

-MonsterZero NJ

3 and 1/2 rattlesnakes

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