Indie producer Jason Blum's Blumhouse Productions has achieved significant Hollywood success with a hand in such films as the PARANORMAL ACTIVITY, INSIDIOUS, and THE PURGE franchises, as well as SINISTER, THE LORDS OF SALEM, DARK SKIES, and OCULUS among others. Blumhouse titles are typically budgeted between $3 million and $5 million, with name actors taking pay cuts in exchange for a percentage of the profits, which really paid off for Ethan Hawke on SINISTER and THE PURGE. However, that formula isn't working for the actors starring in several Blumhouse titles have been languishing unreleased for quite some time--as long as five years in the case of PARANORMAL ACTIVITY helmer Oren Peli's AREA 51, acquired by Paramount and still awaiting release after being completed in 2009. Joe Carnahan's STRETCH was recently released directly to VOD, and it, along with three buried Blumhouse productions set to be distributed by Universal--NOT SAFE FOR WORK, MERCY, and MOCKINGBIRD--were recently released on DVD exclusively (for now) at Walmart and just this week, began streaming on Netflix Instant. All of these films had nationwide theatrical release dates penciled in at various times, but for a variety of reasons--primarily the claim of exorbitant distribution costs--Universal opted to shelve them until quietly making them available now.
NOT SAFE FOR WORK
(US - 2014)
It's a refreshingly simple set-up and Johnston is enough of a pro to keep it suspenseful, getting a lot of help from some twisty, snaking camera work by Jonathan Taylor, who handled second-unit duties for Johnston on THE FIRST AVENGER. It does sometimes seem like the film is too short, with some of Roger's behavior left unexplained (why does he react so oddly to Tom telling him he's secretly dating Emmerich's assistant Anna, played by Eloise Mumford) and his potential backstabbing of Tom dropped completely (why is Roger going through Tom's desk?), and it's hard telling what drew Johnston to the project. Perhaps after so many effects-heavy films and behind-the-scenes drama (he also directed 2010's troubled THE WOLFMAN), he just wanted to make something basic and simple with a producer known for being mostly hands-off and letting his directors direct. Buoyed by a terrific performance by Feild (James Montgomery Falsworth in THE FIRST AVENGER), looking and acting like a young Clive Owen as the relentless killer, NOT SAFE FOR WORK is the very defintion of a harmless time killer, unspectacular, slight, and not very inventive, but a polished and entertaining B-movie that's over before it ever has a chance to wear out its welcome. (Unrated, 74 mins)
(US - 2014)
There's some interesting and disturbing ideas in King's story and for a while, MERCY is eerily effective and beautifully filmed, especially in some visually striking, almost painterly images of the mountains, hills, and the monstrous-looking trees with twisting branches that surround Mercy's home. Unfortunately, it soon devolves into more modern-day EXORCIST nonsense, made unique only by the bizarre sight of 77-year-old, two-time Oscar nominee Knight going through all the standard possession histrionics (including vomiting into Georgie's face) and doing the herky-jerky RINGU/JU-ON shuffle. By the end, the film just collapses into a smoldering heap of bush-league CGI and utterly incoherent plot developments and, running just a few minutes longer than NOT SAFE FOR WORK, looking very much like a strangely short film that doesn't seem to be all there (Kevin Greutert, director of the last two SAW entries, has an "additional editing" credit). Also with mumblecore icon Mark Duplass as Georgie's alcoholic, loser uncle, Hana Hayes as "Girl Next Door," Georgie's imaginary friend/guardian angel who appears in times of trouble (shades of THE SHINING's "Tony"), Jack Carter as a nursing home resident terrified by Mercy, and Dylan McDermott, appearing in his second film titled MERCY since 2010, as a local artist/handyman still carrying a torch for Rebecca. (R, 79 mins)
(US - 2014)
The puppet masters orchestrating the mayhem in MOCKINGBIRD are amazingly efficient and coordinated, creating a camera with an undying battery, sneaking in and out of Tom & Emmy's and Beth's house, breaking windows, banging on the doors, and blaring ominous classical music, all while somehow not drawing the attention of the neighbors, and still having enough time to fill Beth's garage with red balloons in the world's lamest Nena tribute. In no time at all, the film is little more than grating characters screaming and arguing, unfunny comic relief with Leonard in clown garb, and almost non-stop shaky-cam and darkness. There's no scares, because movies like this have you trained to watch the entire frame for a person to appear in the background, then immediately disappear. By the time everything wraps up, you realize that Bertino has made the sophomore slump a self-fulfilling prophecy, looking like a one-trick pony who's done nothing more than remake THE STRANGERS with one of the flimsiest excuses yet for found-footage while adding a little of SAW's impossibly elaborate gamesmanship almost as a bonus lack of inspiration. The best thing than can be said about MOCKINGBIRD--other than the fact that it does indeed, at one point, finally end--is that Bertino offers a knockout opening sequence that gets your attention and creates the impression that this one means business. It doesn't. There's nothing here. (Unrated, 82 mins)