IR Film Review: YOU SHOULD HAVE LEFT [Universal]

The tendency of perspective and perception is a idiom in movies that usually paints to a metaphor of whether or not a character is guilty of the actions he or she supposedly committed. in “You Should Have Left”, the essence of the Id is a big texture with the characters, male and female. Like writer/director David Koepp’s earlier “Secret Window” with Johnny Depp, it is about reflective insanity that can both be deconstructive but also freeing with certain characters. Kevin Bacon has been known to subvert genre more than a time or two so it can be tricky what angle the character could actually take which is part of why the film works as much as it does. The aspect of such a big age gap with his character and his wife Susanna (played by Amanda Seyfried) works when you understand the mechanics of the story and why that needs to be. It is a bit of a stretch maybe but they both make it work.

The mechanics of the movie are effective. The story is not about any big reveals but it is also not about making it easy to discover what is going on. The production design and the efficiency of structure is quintessential Blumhouse but also Koepp efficiency and 90s style thriller. Making a genre film and on a low budget ultimately depends on the director. Sometimes it can make certain directors really make it work like “Upgrade” by Leigh Whammel. “You Should Have Left” is an apt film but it is neither exceptional nor bad. It is effectively entertaining and a film that definitely has re-watch value, not because there are new aspects to discover but because the mechanics are smooth. Seyfried gets a bit of a thankless role but there is a almost a proxy irony that filters through the story with her. Avery Essex who plays their young daughter is extremely precocious but also an effective actor beyond her years…and yet sometimes one can see her acting.

The film also uses its location to remove the viewer from their comfort zone. The location that fills in for Wales is undeniably remarkable if the location manager managed to do what is seen seamlessly with very few stock shots if any. On the essence that this is a Blumhouse production, it is not necessarily terrifying or filled with horror as one would think but it is a effective concept that can be made to fill a structural base, like “The Purge” or “Happy Death Day,” That is the brilliance of a piece like this and the Blumhouse model because it forces the filmmaker to make it work at a studio level with the budget of an indie. But, as usual, it is always about the right ingredients.

B-

By Tim Wassberg

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