‘The Lodge’ Might Be Too Twisty for Its Own Good, But It’s Still a Chilling New Vision of Cabin Fever

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CREDIT: Thimios Bakatakis/A24/Courtesy of Sundance Institute

Starring: Riley Keough, Jaeden Martell, Lia McHugh, Richard Armitage, Alicia Silverstone

Directors: Veronika Franz and Severin Fiala

Running Time: 108 Minutes

Rating: R for Some Shocking Gunshots, Disturbing Tableaux, and a Little Post-Shower Nudity

Release Date: February 7, 2020

In The Lodge, a couple of kids (Jaeden Martell, Lia McHugh) head to a cabin during Christmas break with their dad Richard (Richard Armitage) and his new fiance Grace (Riley Keough). Work duties force Richard to head back home for a few days, which leaves Grace and the kids snowed in due to some, shall we say, inclement weather. And that’s when things start getting weird. The youngsters have resented Grace for as long as they’ve known her, and the tight quarters only amplify those feelings at first. They eventually start to approach a bit of a detente, but then everything suddenly breaks down. The power shuts off, the backup generator won’t work, and everyone’s cell phone is fully uncharged. And on top of all that, the refrigerator and all the cabinets and dresser drawers have been mysteriously cleared out.

Suddenly being cut off from the rest of the world in inhospitable weather is (and has been plenty of times) enough of a premise to introduce extreme physical and psychological danger. But the thorough disappearance of all those provisions adds an immense layer of mystery. Have the kids pulled an elaborate prank on Grace, or vice versa? None of them seem inclined to take their ill will that far, and there doesn’t appear to be enough room for them to hide everything anyway. And nothing about this situation makes any sense as a break-in.

The possibility of a more supernatural explanation butts its way in soon enough. It’s been lingering around there for a while, long before this predicament ever began. Grace, it should very much be noted, is the sole survivor of a religious cult that committed mass suicide when she was twelve years old. She remains haunted by the experience in her dreams and is given to frequent sleepwalking. Maybe that trauma has somehow made its way out of her subconscious and started tangibly affecting those around her. Furthermore, weird items start appearing that make Grace and the kids seriously wonder if they are now in fact dead and are stuck in some sort of purgatory. They then grapple with a fascinating conundrum that much of The Lodge is concerned with: since none of us really know what comes after death, how do we recognize it when we experience it?

Eventually, The Lodge decides that it must end, and in so doing, it moves away from the supernatural and back towards the corporeal. This leads to a whole host of paradoxes that I don’t think I, or any viewer, or anyone involved in this film can provide a full satisfying explanation for. The prosaic and the more out-there elements really do not sit well together. It’s twist upon twist upon twist, though it’s never clear (perhaps purposely) which twist is the truest. The fallout from trying to make sense of it all is a little too disturbing to handle. That said, much of the staging and thematics of the film itself are disturbing in all the right ways.

The Lodge is Recommended If You Like: It Comes at Night, Hereditary

Grade: 3.5 out of 5 Gas Heaters

This Is a Movie Review: Under the Silver Lake

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CREDIT: A24

Under the Silver Lake is Inherent Vice crossed with The Shining.

Shaggy dog mysteries (which seem to exclusively be set in L.A.) have their charms, but they also have an underlying sense of frustration because the mystery is most definitely never solved satisfyingly, or at least not transparently. But they act like they want to solve the mystery. In the case of Under the Silver Lake, though, it’s clearly more satisfying to leave everything confusing. With his tendency to beat people up for minor offenses, Sam (Andrew Garfield) is certainly not a nice person, so it’s fitting that he doesn’t find all the answers. But that doesn’t mean there isn’t some sort of “conspiracy,” or at least conspiracy-ish happening or series of happenings, going on. Disappearing Neighbor Riley Keough may be part of only a small portion of the whole tapestry. Sam enters Shining territory as his experience of supernatural occurrences feel inextricable from the real thing. He seems to have crossed through a looking glass wherein he might as well have been a part of all this for all eternity, especially considering his aimlessness. It’s an unmoored journey that I enjoyed.

I give Under the Silver Lake 400 Numbers out of 500 Questions.

This Is a Movie Review: Steven Soderbergh and the ‘Logan Lucky’ Crew Pull Off a Heist at the Biggest Race of the Year

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Credit: Claudette Barius / Fingerprint Releasing | Bleecker Street

This review was originally published on News Cult in August 2017.

Starring: Channing Tatum, Adam Driver, Riley Keough, Daniel Craig, Katie Holmes, Dwight Yoakam, Seth MacFarlane, Jack Quaid, Brian Gleeson, Katherine Waterston, Hilary Swank

Director: Steven Soderbergh

Running Time: 119 Minutes

Rating: PG-13 for Improvised Explosives and Slapstick Violence, Often Involving a Prosthetic

Release Date: August 18, 2017

If you follow the sports world, you will have noticed lately the several examples of the wonders that taking significant time off does towards extending a career. Roger Federer and Serena Williams, perhaps the two greatest tennis players of all time, have taken months-long breaks and at ages 36 and 35, respectively (ancient by athletic standards), they are still somehow in the primes of their careers. The physicality of sports and filmmaking are not exactly the same, but both can be similarly taxing. So while it is right to question the accuracy of Steven Soderbergh’s claim that he was retiring from directing, it is not right to question the wisdom of what he was actually doing, i.e., taking a nice, long, relaxing break, as Logan Lucky is the type of film that you make only when you are bursting with energy.

Logan is Soderbergh’s first directorial effort since 2013’s Side Effects and the HBO film Behind the Candelabra, but in premise, it most obviously brings to mind his Ocean’s trilogy. Recently unemployed West Virginia coal miner Jimmy Logan (Channing Tatum) recruits his one-armed Iraq War vet bartender brother Clyde (Adam Driver) and hairdresser sister Mellie (Riley Keough), along with incarcerated bleached-blonde demolitions expert Joe Bang (Daniel Craig) and Joe’s supposed computer expert brothers Fish (Jack Quaid) and Sam (Brian Gleeson), to rob the cash deposits at Charlotte Motor Speedway during the Coca-Cola 600, the longest annual race on the NASCAR calendar. So it is basically a hillbilly Ocean’s 11 (Logan’s 6, if you will), and that connection is referenced head-on with a sneakily well-timed joke. Now, don’t let that description fool you into thinking that this film looks down on the people that populate it. Its particular strength is how thoroughly and empathetically each character is rendered, despite their colorful personalities offering an easy temptation for stereotypes.

Accordingly, every actor is given plenty of opportunities to stretch, with Soderbergh guiding them along to their best instincts. Keough shines in her accounting of the West Virginia highway system, Driver is wholly convincing with his unassuming one-armed bartending prowess, Seth MacFarlane is Snidely Whiplash-levels ridiculous as a luxuriously coiffed, arrogant driver, Farrah Mackenzie (as Jimmy’s young daughter Sadie) charms enough to somehow make pageant culture a little less nauseating than usual, and when Special Agent Hilary Swank shows up, she makes an all-business demeanor just as much fun as criminality. But the biggest praise is rightfully reserved for Craig, who is delightfully unhinged in the friendliest way possible, as well as Dwight Yoakam, as a warden whose loss of control of his prison amazingly involves the most hilarious taking to task of George R.R. Martin I have ever witnessed.

The conflict of heist movies is such that their cool vibes always goad you into rooting for the criminals. While these robbers typically are not violent, and often target the most powerful and greediest, they are in fact still criminals. The fact that these are just movies should be enough to remove any feelings of moral crisis. But in case you want more than that, there is a Robin Hood-style resolution. Your mileage may vary on what that means in terms of ethical implications, but there is no doubt that it contributes to the good vibes.

Logan Lucky is Recommended If You Like: Heist Films, Southern-Fried Flavor, Feeling Pumped When You Walk Out of the Theater

Grade: 4 out of 5 Painted Cockroaches

This Is a Movie Review: ‘It Comes at Night’ Isn’t Just About Paranoia, It IS Paranoia

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This review was originally published on News Cult in June 2017.

Starring: Joel Edgerton, Carmen Ejogo, Christopher Abbott, Riley Keough, Kelvin Harrison Jr.

Director: Trey Edward Shults

Running Time: 91 Minutes

Rating: R for Frequent Bouts of Vomiting Blood

Release Date: June 9, 2017

A common rule of thumb in horror is that which remains unseen makes for the scariest monsters. What if this guideline were stretched to its furthest limit? Could a total lack of evidence – the unseen itself as a concept – be the ultimate horror? The paranoia-fueled It Comes at Night makes a strong case for just that.

While the titular “It” remains beyond anyone’s perception, its effects are clear and visible right from the get-go. The film opens in a cabin in the woods, that staple of horror film settings, stripped down to its bare essentials. Paul (Joel Edgerton) and Sarah (Carmen Ejogo) live with their teenage son Travis (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) in a most desolate location. Their first order of business is disposing of Sarah’s father Bud (David Pendleton), who has succumbed to some sort of deadly contagion that appears to be looming as a threat over the entire world. How far from society has this family removed itself? Or has civilization broken down entirely such that there is no society to detach from? How far into the future does this take place, or is this present day? Does time even matter?

All this uncertainty ensures that no happy ending can come out of someone breaking into Paul and Sarah’s thoroughly boarded-up home. Will (Christopher Abbott), the intruder, somehow manages to get an invitation out of Paul to join them in the house, along with his wife Kim (Riley Keough), and their young son Andrew (Griffin Robert Faulkner), but it is an uneasy peace. The two families divvy up their supplies evenly, but the issue here is not fairness, it is trust, which is impossible to establish. The specter of death in these woods is ever-present but also unknowable – anyone could be its agent, even without intending to be. A simple changing of one’s mind is cause for confrontation.

At the risk of giving too much away, I think it is important to note that It Comes at Night might not exactly be the film that its advertising makes it out to be. This is a major issue at a time when horror hounds expect visceral thrills out of something low-key like It Follows or they anticipate comprehensibility out of something inscrutable like The Witch. It Comes’ trailers give the sense that there is some monster lurking in the woods that is the source of the disease. That might be true, but that is also beside the point. It could also be a government experiment gone wrong, or it could be a nameless, faceless apocalypse-level pandemic. But the prime monster in this slice of the world is paranoia. When the structure of one’s reality breaks apart irreversibly, there is no such thing as security or sanity.

It Comes at Night is Recommended If You Like: The Thing, The Others, The Blair Witch Project

Grade: 4 out of 5 Infections