‘Blue Bayou’ Tells a Tender and Painful Tale of Deportation Limbo

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Blue Bayou (CREDIT: Focus Features)

Starring: Justin Chon, Alicia Vikander, Mark O’Brien, Linh Dan Pham, Sydney Kowalske, Vondie Curtis-Hall, Emory Cohen

Director: Justin Chon

Running Time: 112 Minutes

Rating: R for Adult Language and Up-Close Violence

Release Date: September 17, 2021 (Theaters)

Blue Bayou should spur many people to a very specific action: if you were born outside the United States and adopted by an American family, check your citizenship status as soon as you can! I doubt that you’re in as much danger as tattoo artist Atonio LeBlanc (Justin Chon, also the writer and director), but that’s not a risk worth taking.

As a message delivery system, Blue Bayou is clear and effective. But how does it work as an experience to be viewed and digested for a couple of hours? Well, that’s what I’m here to write about, isn’t it? I can tell you this for sure: Chon is a compelling screen presence. He’s been doing his thing on movies and TV for about a decade and a half, but I’m pretty sure this is my first time encountering him (save for a guest spot on an episode of New Girl, apparently). And it’s not hard to care about Antonio’s predicament, considering how blatantly unfair it is. He was adopted from Korea when he was three years old, making Louisiana very much the only home he’s ever known. But because of a quirk in American law, he’s not actually a citizen, and that combined with his criminal record suddenly makes him a target for deportation, thereby threatening to tear him apart from his pregnant wife Kathy (Alicia Vikander) and beloved stepdaughter Jesse (Sydney Kowalske).

A lot of Blue Bayou is powerfully painful, as Antonio is tortured not just by a racist bureaucracy, but also by the scars of his abusive foster childhood. Then there are also the other everyday stressors like a mother-in-law who thinks he’s too much of a burden for her daughter, as well as Sydney’s police officer dad Ace (Mark O’Brien), who’s trying to sneak his way back into the picture against everyone’s wishes. And on top of all that is Ace’s violently unpredictable partner Denny (Emory Cohen), who may just be the biggest threat of all.

Amidst all the instability (and humidity), some moments of the random beauty of everyday life manage to shine through. That’s certainly clear in Antonio’s tender relationship with Jesse, which is filled with motorcycle rides and traversing swampland. But what ultimately sets Blue Bayou apart as something truly unique are Antonio’s encounters with Parker (Linh Dan Pham), a woman dying of cancer who becomes an unlikely customer and confidant. She comes from a family of Vietnam War refugees, and she has plenty to teach Antonio about accepting his fate by virtue of simply being her openhearted self. To sum it all up, there’s a lot of empathy being generated by this movie, and that makes for a fulfilling viewing experience.

Blue Bayou is Recommended If You Like: The personal meeting the political

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Tattoos

No Need to Make a Deal with the Devil: Go See ‘Ready or Not’!

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CREDIT: Eric Zachanowich/Twentieth Century Fox

Starring: Samara Weaving, Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien, Henry Czerny, Andie MacDowell, Nicky Guadagni, Kristian Bruun, Melanie Scrofano, Elyse Levesque, John Ralston

Directors: Matt Bettinelli-Olpin and Tyler Gillett

Running Time: 95 Minutes

Rating: R for Ridiculous and Bloody Violence, Over-the-Top Profanity, and a Few Bumps of Cocaine

Release Date: August 21, 2019

Rich people are so different from the rest of us (HOW DIFFERENT ARE THEY?!) that some of them think it’s perfectly justifiable to hunt other people for fun. Or at least that’s what the 1924 short story “The Most Dangerous Game” and its many descendants would have us believe. The latest example is Ready or Not, which features the highest-stakes version of hide-and-seek I have ever witnessed. It takes place at the mansion of the Le Domas family, whose black sheep son Alex (Mark O’Brien) has returned home with his new bride Grace (Samara Weaving). The Le Domases made their fortune in the gaming industry, and it is no coincidence that tradition dictates that whenever someone marries into the family, she must play a little game with her in-laws on her wedding night.

As the newbie to all this eccentricity, Grace is of course the hider, which she discovers is quite a frightening position to be in when she learns that everyone is trying to kill her before the sun comes up. This may sound like some sort of twisted sport hunting, but while the Le Domases can be gleeful in their attempted murder, they would rather not have to go through it. And yet they have decided they must, for they believe that something very bad will happen to them if they do not complete the ritual. You see, a few generations ago, when the first Le Domas arrived in America, he made a deal with a strange benefactor who promised – and delivered – great fortune, but with the caveat that his family must perform this wedding night gameplay in perpetuity under penalty of execution. The underlying message is clear: the ultra-rich are prone to some rather offbeat logic to justify their lot in life.

The familial indoctrination on display here is strikingly similar to that of a cult, which has me wondering: is devotion to the principles of the ultra-rich a religious sect unto itself? The religious overtones are certainly there, as the mandatoriness of the lethal hide-and-seek is fashioned as a sort of deal with the devil. But while the Le Domases appear to be allegiant to some sort of dark lord, their loyalty is not all that different than the sort demanded by the God of the Old Testament. While watching Ready or Not, I couldn’t stop thinking of Abraham attempting to sacrifice his son Isaac after God commanded him to do so, with God then rewarding Abraham for his loyalty. Is Alex’s responsibility to kill his new wife just a similar test of faith?

The great satisfaction of Ready or Not is how these weighty issues of generational inheritance fit so seamlessly within the thrills of a relentless and-then-there-were-none-style slasher pic. The performances follow suit. Samara Weaving is like a threatened animal screaming full-bodied howls animated by profound incredulousness, with the survivor’s strength she summons recalling Marilyn Burns in The Texas Chain Saw Massacre and Sharni Vinson in You’re Next. As the parents and aunt of the groom, Andie MacDowell, Henry Czerny, and Nicky Guadagni are all disturbingly committed to the game, while Adam Brody, as Alex’s brother Daniel, is in eternal negotiations with the legacy he’s inherited. The blood in Ready or Not is disturbing, hilarious, and thought-provoking – what else can you ask for?!

Ready or Not is Recommended If You Like: You’re Next, Clue, The Purge

Grade: 4.5 out of 5 Bloody Wedding Dresses