Thursday, May 12, 2016

On DVD/Blu-ray: REGRESSION (2016); SYNCHRONICITY (2016); and SUBMERGED (2015)

(Spain/Canada - 2015; 2016 US release)

There's a good movie to be made of the so-called "Satanic Panic" of the mid-1980s. It was a time when horror movies and heavy metal were blamed when impressionable kids did horrible things and a Satanic cult was believed to be emerging after dark throughout small-town America, practicing all manner of Satanic ritual abuse. Written and directed by the once-promising Alejandro Amenabar, who made his name with 1997's OPEN YOUR EYES and the revered 2001 ghost story THE OTHERS, REGRESSION could almost describe the filmmaker's career momentum over the last decade. This is just Amenabar's second feature since helming 2004's Best Foreign Language Film Oscar-winner THE SEA INSIDE: nobody saw his 2009 historical epic AGORA and REGRESSION received only a scant US release two years after it was shot. By tackling the subject of Satanic ritual abuse, Amenabar is working at cross purposes: he spends 90 minutes trying to fashion a creepy, supernatural horror film but anyone old enough to remember the Satanic Panic knows how it became a big nothing, and those who weren't around for it are bound to be disappointed by the historically accurate but cinematically empty resolution.

"Inspired by true events," REGRESSION takes place in a small Minnesota town in 1990, even though the height of Satanic Panic was more 1985-86). Hard-nosed, obsessive detective Kenner (Ethan Hawke) catches what seems to be a open-and-shut child molestation case involving mechanic John Gray (David Dencik). Gray confesses to molesting his teenage daughter Angela (Emma Watson), even though he has no memory of doing so. With Angela seeking refuge at the local church under the protection of the parish priest (Lothaire Bluteau), Gray undergoes regressive hypnotherapy with psychologist Dr. Raines (David Thewlis), during which he recalls another person present while the molestation took place: local cop Nesbitt (Aaron Ashmore). Kenner impulsively throws Nesbitt in jail and Angela reveals that her father, grandmother (Dale Dickey, once again cast as the second-string Melissa Leo), and numerous other town residents are part of a Satanic cult that engaged in everything from sex rituals to murdering and eating newborn babies. It isn't long before Kenner's paranoia takes over and he believes himself the next target of the cult. Considering that the Satanic Panic was little more than irrational hype from worried parents, reactionary law enforcement, and an overzealous media latching on to an alleged phenomenon guaranteed to get attention and scare the public into a frenzy, fashioning REGRESSION as a straight-up horror movie for most of its duration probably wasn't the way to approach this if Amenabar was making a serious examination of the topic. By the end, especially after a really dumb revelation that undermines everything about the Satanic Panic for the sake of a stupid twist, Amenabar has backed himself into a corner and debunked his own movie.  This really should've been something more, but I can't really say what. And neither can Amenabar. (R, 106 mins)

(US - 2016)

A frustratingly empty time travel sci-fi saga, SYNCHRONICITY goes for the trendy retro '80s look and feel, but doesn't accomplish much else. If it had a story worth telling, all of the fetishizing with the synths and the cold, blue cityscapes would provide effective accompaniment, but in the end, that's all SYNCHRONICITY has and it just comes off as PRIMER remade as BLADE RUNNER fan fiction. Scientist Jim Beale (Chad McKnight) is working on a top-secret project to open a traversable wormhole in the space-time continuum. His benefactor, the sinister and obscenely wealthy Klaus Meisner (a nicely-cast Michael Ironside), a guy we instantly know is sinister because he's named "Klaus Meisner," naturally wants to use it for power and financial gain, but after admitting that the ramifications of the project could have globally apocalyptic ramifications, Beale uses it for something far more altruistic: chasing a girl. The girl is Abby, who may or may not have come from a time jump and is played by Brianne Davis, who looks like Jennifer Lawrence and sounds like Joey Lauren Adams, but plays the part as if she's Aubrey Plaza playing Sean Young's Rachael in BLADE RUNNER. SYNCHRONICITY is very beholden to the 1982 Ridley Scott classic, almost annoyingly so, from its blatantly Vangelis-like score to the Syd Mead-inspired visual futurism on a budget. Writer-director Jacob Gentry, who was also one of three directors of 2008's inexplicably acclaimed THE SIGNAL, fills SYNCHRONICITY with unsubtle references to other movies, whether it's Beale's colleague (AJ Bowen) shouting "We are messing with the primal forces of nature here!" or the constant film noir shout-outs, with lighting through Venetian blinds or constantly spinning window fans. The exposition and dialogue are cloddish as well, like Beale proclaiming "We are precious moments from a topological anomaly!" or dropping some clumsy exposition like "Then I will have proof of the findings to show our venture capitalist, Klaus Meisner." From the get-go, SYNCHRONICITY just rubbed me the wrong way, and the glacially slow pace, the shameless BLADE RUNNER worship, the bland performance by McKnight, who's not unlike a sedated Casey Affleck, and Gentry giving the great Ironside almost nothing to do but sneer (which he does beautifully) did little to win me over. These retro homages really only work if there's a engaging story to tell, like in THE HOUSE OF THE DEVIL, BEYOND THE BLACK RAINBOW, or TURBO KID (which also co-starred Ironside). All Gentry does here is pilfer from other, infinitely better movies while bringing nothing of his own to the table. He should've just saved time and money and filmed himself watching a double feature of BLADE RUNNER and PRIMER. You'd be better off doing exactly that. Cool poster, though. (R, 100 mins)

(US - 2015)

A limo careens into a river and sinks, the people inside unable to get out, the water rising and the air in short supply. Seems like a can't-miss premise for an intense nail-biter of a thriller, but writer Scott Milam (the 2012 remake of MOTHER'S DAY) and director Steven C. Miller (SILENT NIGHT, the 2012 remake of SILENT NIGHT, DEADLY NIGHT) do everything they can to screw it up. Insisting on telling the story in a fractured timeline is the biggest mistake, as it completely eliminates any sense of escalating tension to cut away to flashbacks every few minutes. The key to pulling something like this off is staying in the limo, but by the eight-minute mark, Miller, fresh off his EXTRACTION triumph with former actor Bruce Willis, is already out of the limo, filling us on in the backstories of the characters and how they arrived at their current predicament. Who gives a shit? Limo driver Matt (Jonathan Bennett, who played Bo Duke in the DTV DUKES OF HAZZARD sequel and replaced Ryan Reynolds in a DTV VAN WILDER sequel) is a bodyguard for Jessie (Talulah Riley), the spoiled daughter of billionaire business CEO Hank Searles (a slumming Tim Daly), who recently laid off a ton of workers. Turns out the party limo filled with several of Jessie's friends was targeted by disgruntled ex-employees looking to abduct Jessie for a fat ransom from Searles (or Sayles--in an apparent homage to OVER THE TOP's Lincoln Hawk/Hawks, the movie can't seem to decide).

Instead of letting the suspense build in the limo--where everybody starts arguing ("Every time you kiss her, you're tasting my dick!")--Miller and Milam spend entirely too much screen time on flashbacks involving Matt's troubled, drug-dealing younger brother Dylan (Cody Christian), which ultimately does nothing other than pad the running time. You'll be able to spot the puppet masters behind all the mayhem long before Matt does, mainly because of one character who acts weird for no reason (and later talks in the kind of condescending, sing-songy tone that only one-dimensional villains in bad movies and TV shows use), and another who's played by a prominently-billed, well-known, veteran actor who's barely in the first 90% of the movie. Also featuring Mario Van Peebles, SUBMERGED sinks in almost record time, with Miller demonstrating absolutely no ability to stage any kind of suspense or action sequence (the climax has one of the most ineptly-shot fight scenes in recent memory), with only a couple of surprisingly gory splatter scenes and a competent, if slightly bland performance by Bennett (who looks like the guy you get when Karl Urban doesn't return your calls and Brandon Routh lies and says he's busy) to save it from total uselessness. Even by the standards of the VOD scrapyard SUBMERGED, is at the bottom of the heap. (Unrated, 98 mins, also streaming on Netflix)

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