“A Quiet Place”

Horror films conform to certain genre specific tropes. Dread and foreboding suspense being two. John Krasinski and real wife, Emily Blunt star in his film, “ A Quiet Place”. Based on an original screenplay by Bryan Woods and Scott Beck, Krasinski wrote, stared in, and directed. He plays Lee Abbott, a survivalist, who is quietly attempting to keep his family safe from creatures of an alien sort. They are monstrous creatures who attack sound. His 6 year-old  son is gruesomely slain, and his other two children are trying to be brave for their mother, Evelyn, who is pregnant.

Millicent Simmonds, who is herself deaf, plays the also deaf, rebellious teen, Regan. Regan blames herself for her youngest brother’s death. Her ten-year-old brother, Marcus , is actor Noah Jape. Both child actors are just the right mix of scared and brave.

The setting is in a future dystopia, but the farm with its silos and fresh vegetables, and water falls looks like upstate New York. An empty town with leaf strewn streets provide the opening frame inside a ransacked  grocery store.

Lee has spent lots of time using a white sandy substance to soften the sound of barefoot strides on intricate pathways to and from the river and fields. Lights flash red when the creatures are in proximity of the house. Rigged subterranean basements ready Evelyn for childbirth with its cries and screams. For even when a lantern is knocked over, panic sets in and they listen in fear.

The tension is always palpable. One of the best scenes occurs when Marcus falls into the grain silo. Millicent and alien follow. Blunt’s bathtub birth is also chilling. Blunt is easy to watch. Soft, boiled wool mobiles are readied for the new baby. We feel like we are viewing “Little House on the Prarie” , but there  is no calling for dinner. Silence is a way of life with monopoly playing  and holding hands in mute, family-thanksgiving, prayer.

Evelyn is strong and resourceful. She breathes through her lonely contractions like a pro. She is purposeful and does not fret. She, also, does not deserve the film’s ending.

The family’s progress is numbered  in days; for example, we see “Day 473” flash on the screen. A calendar is kept for the perceived date of birth with blood pressure and fetal heart rates written down daily.

Lee works with the ear pieces, both for ear-bud music and for Regan’s hearing aid. Marcus is taught survival skills like trapping fish. Marcus wonders why Regan is not allowed to come. The family is normal in their emotional dynamics, but the build up is slow. They are not the only humans. There are many silos, and one seemingly abandoned farm produces an elderly man, who has just lost his wife to the gut-eating, blind creatures who roam the earth.

I want to really like this movie because the principals are great. It is the creatures that seem absurd. They are derivative and mechanical: the creature from the Black Laguna meshed with the Alien and the Fly. Creatures that go for noises is a cool idea, but as visual evil, these guys seem too, well,  unbelievable. The jump scares seem silly when you see the creatures, and likewise the close-ups. I prefer more psychological horror, rather than  overtly situational. I ,also, hate the ending and still stew about how the children got out of the grain silo. The amplified, high-pitched-sound frequency from Regan’s hearing aid is a creative twist. See it if you have time to spare, or enjoy seeing your PG-13ers scared.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

“The Girl On The Train”

 

Rachel, Anna, and Megan are all emotionally unhealthy females, but ” The Girl On The Train”‘s  play to gender politics is heavily weighted against abusive males. Despite comparisons to last year’s  “Gone Girl”, the going motivation here is not money, but power and sex. Let there be no doubt about it, the devil is a he!

The woman are devilish. Rachel (Emily Blunt) is obsessed with her ex-husband and has turned to alcohol and stalking and hang-up phone calls. Anna (Rebecca Ferguson) is the new wife of Rachel’s ex.  Anna was Rachel and Tom’s ( Justin Theroux) Century  21 real eastate agent, who now has a baby and no job, but needs Megan (Haley Bennett) to fold the laundry and tend to the baby while she naps. Megan, the nanny, who is scarred by her own infant drowning in the bathtub as she was holding her, is pregnant with Tom’s baby. Megan lives with possessive Scott (Luke Evans). Megan turns up missing and we try to unravel the motivations. Add hunky shrink Kamel Abdicate ( Edgar Ramirez) and the viewers are ready to seek counsel for their own depression.

I am glad I did not read Paula Hawkins’ novel. The first person narratives are shallow: Rachel:” I am not the girl I used to be. She is what I lost. She is everything I want to be.” Really, married to a violent man who lost his job because of his inability to keep his pants zipped ?!  Megan: ” I can’t just be a wife. The boring routine. This town is a fucking baby factory. The only time I feel like myself is when I am running.” Anna spends much of her time trying to crack husband Tom’s computer password just in case his amorous past is presenting a pattern! Duh!!

Lisa Kudrow as Monica has the kindest, most genuine female role;and Laura Prepon of “Orange Is The New Black” fame, has the second. Although after two years of housing and supporting Rachel, the actual girl on the train, she asks her to leave. Neither are on screen long. Allison Janny plays a one-dimensional detective, who is cynical at best.

The psychiatrist is empathetic to Rachel’s addictions and her abuse. He is on to the mantra of “Forgive yourself”. Something he has no trouble doing in rationalizing having sex with a  damaged patient. None of these upper Hudson Valley inhabitants would you choose as friends or as psychiatrists.

Director Tate Taylor holds the film’s suspense well, and Emily Blunt produced facial expressions that I have never seen her display before. As an alcoholic with a penchant for angry displays and blackouts, she is both scary and vulnerable. The violence and sexual displays seemed B- movie grade all the way. The worldview is dour here. Motherhood is shown as daunting even in the first year, and the women hold fantasy lives dear. There doesn’t seem to be a man around that can control his libido.

Pure rage and violent revenge seem endemic. The jumbled chronological order from “six months ago” to “a year ago ” to flashbacks of years back are both lazy and jarring. The despicable Tom’s words of ” In a way, you killed her.” Got laughs from the audience, as did Anna’s final corkscrew twist. Screenwriter Erin Cressida Wilson may not have had much to work with, but riding back and forth daily from the Hudson River suburbs to New York City and back should produce more than a shaking lipstick application and a sippy cup of vodka-induced angst.

“Sicario”

Real chemistry can be seen between Benicio del Toro and Emily Blunt in “Sicario” , a thriller/revenge morality tale. The CIA,the FBI and the Columbian and Mexican drug cartels make for grisly images,procedural tinkerings, and “big picture” overviews of anti-drug soldiering. Situational ethics move with the clouds ,and you have never heard a better score, composed by Johann Johannsson and  some tracks performed by the Bucharest Symphony. I really liked this film. It is as complicated and as hellish as any war, and as nerve shattering. The pace under the direction of Denis Villeneuve is perfection. There is little dialogue,yet Taylor Sheridan has written a tight story that forces us to understand evil and its ramifications. The film’s transitions are superb. ” Be Alert, be vigilant, be aware” becomes the viewers’ mantra as it does our protagonist Kate’s.

Kate is an FBI agent with tactical experience who volunteers for an interagency task force with a crafty CIA agent named Matt ( Josh Brolin). Accompanied with music deep, dark and bass, a black caravan of Tahoes enter Juarez, Mexico. We see dangling and dismembered bodies,hear helicopter blades beat dread and fear, and realize that eight dead bodies on the borderline “won’t even make the paper in El Paso”.

Kate learns that she is being used as a decoy to trap agents on the take. In the “Wild Pony” bar, Kate dances and drinks only to fight for her life as part of the team. The “team” creates chaos and balances the score. They find a major tunnel, but understand that nothing will be where it is today. The scenes of border madness are amazing. Bus loads of migrant workers are interrogated and transported.

As Kate longs for the objective of their mission, Alejandro (del Toro) speaks of the Mexican cartel leader Manuel Diaz as a killer of thousands either killed by his hand or his blessing. He explains to Kate that killing him would be like finding a vaccine. Kate realizes that the FBI is not even scratching the surface. Only chickens and mules cross the drug land without money changing hands.

Benicio del Toro does his best work to date. He is tender and extremely violent. If “Sicario” means “zealot” in Jerusalem and “hitman” in Mexico, Alejandro is both. His violence is horrendous and personal. The action keeps moving along with the boundaries and the bad men. The music is often dirge like. The storm brewing makes use of dark skies and thunder. Thermal cameras are used to cinematic advantage. Natural sun sets contrast with the unnatural, like wives and children being shot or thrown into vats of acid. When Del Toro tells Blunt that she is “not a wolves’ wolf and this is a land of wolves”,we understand.

The final shot of children playing soccer amidst the crack of gunfire leaves its mark,too. Yet,prepare to see gray in all its variations while you are at the edge of your seat throughout this amazing film.