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What Did You Watch This Week? (Reviews of Annihilation, The Ritual, It, The Foreigner, The Bar)

What You Watched This Week Short reviews of under the oily dome thriller Annihilation, the lad-decorated trees of The Ritual, Spaniards bickering in The Bar, Jackie Chan vs the IRA in The Foreigner, and a story about a clown who lives with turds, It.

Starring: Natalie Portman, Jennifer J’Leigh, Oscar Isaac, Gina Rodriguez
Director: Alex Garland

A biologist’s (Portman) military husband (Isaac) returns from a secret mission a broken man, before falling into a coma. He had been sent into “the Shimmer”, an expanding area of unnatural and dangerous mutations which began from a comet. To help save him she volunteers for the next (suicidal) mission, joining an all-female team of a psychologist (Leigh), paramedic (Rodriguez), physicist (Tessa Thompson), and geologist (Tuva Novotny). They hope to uncover what is happening and why, but as they approach its center the DNA mutations run amok may kill them all… Adapted from the 2014 novel by writer-director Alex Garland, on a red hot streak of form after ‘Dredd’ and ‘Ex Machina’ (having written the likes of ’28 Days Later’ and ‘Sunshine’ before that). ‘Annihilation’ is scattered with memorable nightmarish imagery, its DNA concept is deeply creepy, the wildlife creature design is great, and there’s a powerfully strong sense of mystery throughout. There’s some interesting discussion of self-destruction but you’re not left with much to think about as you were after ‘Ex Machina’. It’s also, honestly, a pretty bleak, slow and humourless film with an ending different to the book that doesn’t make a whole lot of sense. Grade: B+

The Ritual
Starring: Rafe Spall, Sam Troughton, Robert James-Collier, Arsher Ali
Director: David Bruckner

Four old University pals (headed by Rafe Spall, ‘The Big Short’/’Prometheus’) go trekking in the Scandinavian wilderness to honour a murdered friend. Shortcutting through dense, sinister forest they spend a night in an abandoned shack, one that’s occupied by an unsettling Nordic artefact. Experiencing horrific nightmares they emerge the next morning realising they are lost, and something large and unholy is in pursuit… From the American director of ‘Southbound’, this adaptation of the novel makes for a fine British horror. Sitting somewhere between ‘Blair Witch’, ‘Wicker Man’ and ‘Troll Hunter’, it’s propelled by great chemistry and well observed, witty dialogue among the four men. Rather that the usual contrivances, everyone reacts as you’d imagine middle class Brits in their 30s actually would. The atmospherics are smart and eerie, with the night in the shack providing the most memorable chill. The sharp tension and ensemble entertainment slip a bit in the final act as it transitions into a creature feature and the group is broken up. Still, Rafe Spall gives an understated, grounded performance throughout, a cut above what’s typical for the genre. Grade: B+

Starring: Jaeden Lieberher, Bill Skarsgård, Finn Wolfhard, Sophia Lillis, Jeremy Taylor
Director: Andy Muschietti

In a small town in Maine in 1988, seven children known as The Losers Club come face to face with life problems, bullies and a fear-fed kid-killing monster whose favourite form is a clown… R-rated adaptation of Stephen King’s 1986 novel, which was turned into a TV miniseries in 1990. The box office has been nothing short of phenomenal: The fourth biggest opening of last year, this went on to take $700m globally (!), making it (unadjusted for inflation) the highest grossing horror of all time. It’s also a strong film, a perfect re-encapsulation of the world of King for a new generation (shifting seamlessly from 50s childhoods to 80s). The young cast are smart, funny and have great chemistry – you know it’s a premium horror if you can take out the monster and still have a great film (this could have been a ‘Stand By Me’ remake). Pennywise, the role made famous by a 44 year old Tim Curry, is reimagined and given even more iconic status by 27 year old Bill Skarsgård (Netflix’s ‘Hemlock Grove’ and son of Stellan Skarsgård). He’s much more of an FX prop this time but it’s effective. The numerous scare sequences (which wisely drop the Universal Monsters and giant spider from the novel) are inventive and memorable, if only occasionally truly scary. Expect to see other King classics remade soon, starting with ‘Pet Sematary’ (sic). Grade: A-

The Foreigner
Starring: Jackie Chan, Pierce Brosnan, Niall McNamee, Michael McElhatton
Director: Martin Campbell

A splinter group called the “Authentic IRA” detonate a bomb on a London high street, killing the daughter of a Chinese man (Chan), who’s ex-special ops. Heartbroken and out for revenge, he confronts N.Ireland’s Deputy First Minister (Brosnan, mixing Gerry Adams and Martin McGuinness), to demand the names of those responsible. Ignored, he starts his own bombing campaign to intimidate him into revealing what happened. But Sinn Féin/IRA is also at war with itself, as the UK authorities close in, and further London bombings are to come… Based on the 1992 novel, this is directed by the fine Martin Campbell (‘Casino Royale’, ‘Mask of Zorro’). It’s an edgy premise, carried out with a no f**ks attitude. I wondered what kind of post-FX were used to make it look like a bus blew up on Lambeth Bridge, only to discover it was done live and yes indeed did cause a panic. Jackie Chan is used in a fresh way: his humour completely removed, his eyes seared with pain, but the likeability remains as strong as ever. His fight scenes are bone-crunching and frenetic, with the final takedown of a room of cocky Irish terrorists about the most satisfying he’s ever done. Chan being a ghost means Pierce Brosnan actually has the larger role, and he’s entertainingly intense juggling high-pressure politics while watching his back. Indeed a criticism could be that Chan is actually pretty irrelevant to the course of the story and if he were cut the outcome would barely have been affected. Still ‘The Foreigner’ is gratifying and pulses with energy thanks to crisp direction. Grade: B+

The Bar
Starring: Mario Casas, Blanca Suárez, Jaime Ordóñez
Director: Álex de la Iglesia

A group of diners and staff at a lively Spanish cafe find themselves trapped after a sniper kills a customer outside. Meanwhile a military man lies sick and bloated in the toilet with some form of deadly disease… Spanish-language one-location thriller that’s been doing the festival rounds and is now on Netflix. It’s so Spanish that one escape plan involves covering themselves in olive oil. Things starts off well with an energetic, eclectic cast butting heads and sense of mystery. But the momentum and interest drop off significantly in the second half. The question is answered half way through (just another infectious virus on the loose) and there’s no twist or turn after that, instead everything revolves around endless fights over who’s getting the antidote (even though none of them have symptoms). They also spend the entire third act in the sewer, frequently fighting in the sewage as lumps of sh*t float past, it’s just not very pleasant to watch. In the end the backstory of what’s happening needed to be further developed and in a fresher direction, to stop the whole thing running out of steam. Grade: C+

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  • Nuno Correia said

    Glad to see this page is still alive 🙂

    Will there be a 2018 Horror Movie Guide? I’ve been itching for it since January…

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    • Sheridan Passell said
      Sheridan Passell

      Hey Nuno. Yes! Guide will be posted by the end of the week. It’s a very promising (rest of) year.

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  • gd smith said

    I liked It on release and initially thought it was better than the old one. I was not a huge fan of the TV mini series or the novel. Then I watched them back to back at home. Personally. I found the Mummy and Wolf man scenes as well as the JD being folded and pulled down drain pipe much cooler than anything in the new one. Also the CG is mostly really sub par, especially the women in the picture and balloons. They both have their faults an pluses, but I now like the old one more. I actually think Jon Watts’s Clown from 2014 is the better/best child-eating-clownmonster movie!
    The Ritual, was good but I didn’t like the lead, so part of the story arch didn’t work for me.
    Annihilation, I really really liked even if it does basically resolve itself through the means of interpretive dance!
    I’ve not seen the other films.

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