IR Film Review: THE INVISIBLE MAN [Universal]

The narrative progression of an IP like “The Invisible Man” can take perspective elements on the notion of existence and what it means to be alive. In approaching it in the Blumhouse model, it forces the filmmaker to find that differing approach. Leigh Whannel, known for the SAW Franchise with James Wan, seemed to have figured out something very specific when he made “Upgrade” a couple years ago which premiered at SxSW. He spoke about the difference about having one car for a car chase instead of 10. Working with less makes you approach different things creatively. While this might seem restrictive for some filmmakers who have already made their name, it is also freeing (depending on financial responsibility on who succeeds monetarily with this frugalness).

“The Invisible Man” is much better than it has any right to be but that is because of the committed nature of Elizabeth Moss and Whannel knowing how to work with cinematic perspective for much of the movie without anything really being there…but also knowing not to pull the punches when need be. Despite any genre trappings, there is an emotional resonance with Moss. She gets tossed around but these kind of damaged personas that burgeon to a vicious streak at times make her perfect, giving her that character actor edge. She made “The Kitchen” work at points because she went for it. It is not that her character has abandon, she just fully commits to it. While some might point to an element of overacting, it is a style that works primarily well in these types of films…and Moss knows it.

One crucial point in the film, Whannel does something interesting between the trailer and the actual film which acts to a point of misdirect without even adhering to the big reveal…and it hits hard in that moment to audible gasps. The set pieces feel familiar but also original which is also helped by the fact that the story is set in San Francisco and Silicon Valley yet it was shot in Australia and near Fox Studios Sydney so it has that movie feel of being real but not quite. The continuation of what “The Invisible Man” actually is, of course, reflective of the times but doesn’t make it a matter of scolding, just a state of being. Moss’ character wants to escape an abusive relationship but it is coming to terms with both the mental and physical strain that resides in how she sees herself.

When the genre elements finally kick in, that sense of identity is nicely teetering, especially in one scene after a betrayal of sorts when she is sitting on the floor with a knife in hand staring at an empty room, ruminating on the aspect of why she specifically exists in this space. It may be exposition but it rings heartfelt which makes the next scene really take the fight to a more practical level and thereby makes it more intense. Moss again is great at these points selling them wholesale. The antagonist(s) themselves are fairly thinly drawn, but that angle of the story is not so much central as is the notion of paranoia and control which is very finely detailed.

“The Invisible Man” is an interesting reverse psychology exercise into the diatribe that permeates our times. From the opening credits that tease a noir in certain respects, this approach to the Universal Monster Universe is the correct one: lower budget, using story and acting instead of overarching effects and the essence of psychology which is what made the mid budget films of yesterday so compelling, Making something dynamic is not so much the sum of its parts, but that essence of work between the lines in that what cannot be seen often is scarier than what is right in front of you.

B+

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: FANTASY ISLAND [Sony]

After the advent of “Lost”, the notion of the mysterious island has been tinkered with but this metaphor, this trope of genre, has been in play for quite a long time. It is about taking the mythology and turning it on his head. “Fantasy Island” was probably original thought of as a straight reboot but audiences today don’t want the essence of a fantasy when the reality strays right below. They like the allure of the fantasy but tend to want to see the comeuppance so they don’t feel so bad about the state of the world or their own life. Jason Blum through his Blumhouse banner has found a way to make his type of horror films for a budget and yet use either his burgeoning IP or other IP and transform it with exceptional effect. He got ahold of “Fantasy Island” through Sony, much like the upcoming “Invisible Man” from Universal and changed the perspective.

Without giving too much, this Fantasy Island is about granting your wishes but also showing its consequence. While this might seem like having your cake and eating it too, the film does work on the level though seemingly in a strange college frat yet strangely compelling sort of way. This is why “Happy Death Day” and especially “Happy Death Day 2U “work so well is because it takes the 80s genre of horror per se, spins it with a little creative story structure (which doesn’t work some of the time but most of the time does) and pushes it back out.

The basic structure here still has Mr. Roarke…this time played by Michael Pena versus the now passed Ricardo Montalban. There is a secret to be kept but his intention is kept barely below the surface. Most of the characters from the kid who lost his father to war to a girl bullied in high school getting her revenge to two brothers from different mothers who just want to have a good time work well within their lane and especially when the lanes tend to mix. This type of film is not trying to be rocket science and, beyond a very basic explantation, doesn’t need to say how. The one anomaly is Maggie Q who is very good at genre stuff. She is good here but because of her recognizability, the tendency of the plot tends to get a little more obvious when she is around which might have not necessarily been the best idea since she deserves an action or horror remake all her own. Overall the film though maintains its pace while getting slightly sloppy at the end because all details can ride together…but “Fantasy Island” knows its audience, still wanting to give them scares but without creeping or goring them out too much.

B-

By Tim Wassberg

Fest Track On Sirk TV Film Review: SUNDANCE FILM FESTIVAL 2020 [Park City, Utah] – Part II

The sins of the past lay heavily in the next series of films from Sundance, all of which come from makers outside the US yet reflect the inherent isolation within the connectivity of society, and the fact that help can be so close but misunderstood or disconnected. From a young man going through a breakdown of sorts to a homeless solider being taken advantage of to an abandoned daughter finding the roots that eventually unravel her life, the path for these characters is not easy.

Surge The intensity of any film is how it breaks its perception down and how it interplayed to the audience. Sometimes the throttle can be turned way up and it depends on the level of noise the narrative can take. “Uncut Gems” is a good example of this as Adam Sandler’s character continues down a dark path he can’t control. Actor Ben Wishaw with his character goes farther in an inherently extreme way but with lower stakes and much greater damage per se in a way. The film doesn’t implicitly say what his affliction is but the mania that overtakes him to do simple tasks breaks his tendencies down to a set time and, interestingly enough, one street. While the character’s logic might not make sense, either in the reason he does what he does or his inability and lack of want to stop his behavior, the emotionality is distinctly there. However without a point of reference, it becomes slightly unfocused even though the viewer is waiting for him eventually to get caught. The reflection in the camerawork is also unwieldy. It is understood that as his amorality and mentality comes unhinged so should the camera style but it becomes so jagged and shaky that is starts to distract the viewer to the slight point of queasiness which back in the day could be attributed in digital to the lack of stabilizers. Now it is a conscious choice but almost takes you out of the narrative. The relationship with his parents, especially his mother, points to a deeper seated problem but the acting and their interrelation is played too abstractly. When the final solution presents itself, it is a question of why, especially given the character’s job (working the security line at an airport), his issues weren’t brought out in vetting for a better understanding or help for that matter. The mysterious element of keeping material from the audience is fair but more was needed.

Impertigore Having seen and interviewed writer/director Joko Anwar for his previous film, the notion of family and isolation are inherent themes in his work. His new film playing in the illustrious Sundance Midnight section integrates a woman returning to find a curse laid upon the small local village where she grew up and was subsequently exiled from. It is an interesting premise especially set in the jungles of Indonesia. The cool aspect of Anwar is that while certain films set in that area could be more inherently cultural and perhaps tribal, Anwar gives a very mainstream horror spin on them while mixing in local mythology. It continues to serve him well even though the subject matter and the graphic intensity are still slightly outside the mainstream range in the independent world. The curse revolves around the village offspring, which reflects in very specific way. To not spoil the plot, it is terminal but overwhelming pushed by the local medicine man. The dark tendencies of what it reveals takes time to get moving especially with the players involved including a friend who accompanies the young woman on her trip. The stylistic elements, especially the cinematography, give a burnt, cave-like eerieness to the proceedings much like the jungle texture of Colonel Kurtz in “Apocalypse Now” but with more light. Ultimately the resolution gives inherent closure to the characters because the stakes and the reflection of where their morality lies becomes clearer against a bigger protagonist. And like his previous film, it would not be a true Anwar film without a twist of sorts to progress the mythology.

Amulet While in a different mode than “Impertigore,” some of the same themes of betrayal in a form of trust progresses through “Amulet” as well. While the throughline is is mostly clear, there is a parallel story structure showing the backstory of the main character that, although it shows his psychology, compassion and, at times, rage, it doesn’t balance out the ultimate state of his life. The lead character is obviously bathed in the traumatic aftermath of a war but one where he seemed very isolated, likely along the communist block. He is left homeless but seems to have a solid head on his shoulders, just a lack of direction. He is brought to a house by a nun played by Imelda Staunton with her usual masks so one knows that there is a sliver of darkness playing underneath. She matches him up with a young lady who cares for her mother in the attic. The mother has an affliction. But it turns out to be much more than that. The movie progresses down the rabbit hole with distinct aplomb save for the flashbacks which needed to be flushed out a little more. Eventually the film becomes more abstract, not overly but where it alters the perception of what the character might be seeing and what his motivations are. This if course might be in his head but the penance required is an interesting conundrum.

By Tim Wassberg

IR TV Review: WOUNDS [Hulu]

The aspect of “Wounds” is interesting in seemingly how it is initially portrayed. Even though it made its premiere at Sundance, the texture seems to lend itself to a series, and maybe undeniably an anthology though the cast does not seem as accurately aware of this as maybe the audience is. The set-up is kept fairly vague although the intention points to a book called “The Testament Of Wounds” which speaks to opening to possession of higher beings, whatever structure of course that might mean. Like “The Ring”, the aspect of a physical construct whether in the mind or otherwise, as keyed in here by the tunnel that begins the film and shows up on certain character’s viewscreens, is interesting.

The cast is top notch although the material is more than a little abstract considering many are coming from or have been more in major studio pictures. Armie Hammer is definitely playing outside his comfort zone but it is undeniably a part that others could have played. He shows the psychological structure but does not necessarily make it his own (though it can be effective. The same can be said for Dakota Johnson, who doesn’t have a whole lot to do besides move the plot forward. Zazie Beetz, soon to be seen in “Motherless Brooklyn,” is the more engaging one but many of these characters seems to be adrift in life looking for purpose or just actually realizing what their status quo is.

New Orleans definitely creates an inherent feeling even if the locations are a little restrictive. There is a sense of the darkness and light just off screen. Unlike something like “True Blood” that was shot in Baton Rouge, this does feel inherently local. The issue is that mood can only save so much and the lack of a true narrative connection causes an inherent disconnect in the story. While there does not need to be an unending barrage of exposition, a clearer storyline would work better. Even “Eraserhead” had a vague idea where its protagonist was going.

“Wounds” could be an ongoing series exploring more of what could be in terms of the mythology and the texture of this selection that creates grief. But grief needs a reason to be and not to just exist for itself. This is where “Wounds,” despite its pedigree, falls short.

C

By Tim Wassberg