Wednesday, September 14, 2016

On DVD/Blu-ray: THE ONES BELOW (2016) and URGE (2016)

(UK - 2016)

Opening with a lullaby-like la-la-la theme that recalls the late '60s classics ROSEMARY'S BABY and THE BIRD WITH THE CRYSTAL PLUMAGE and immediately sets an ominous mood, THE ONES BELOW instead aims to be a throwback '90s thriller with the Neighbors from Hell, but it never really catches fire. The chief problem is that it thinks it's the first movie to ever present such a scenario, and as a result, you'll see the twists and reveals coming long before its heroine ever does. Expectant parents Kate (Clemence Poesy) and Justin (Stephen Campbell Moore) have had their London flat to themselves for some time since the passing of the elderly downstairs neighbor. That changes when another expectant couple, Jon (David Morrissey) and his Finnish wife Theresa (Laura Birn) move in. Kate and Theresa become fast friends, but a dinner discussion about children gets uncomfortable when Jon and Theresa seem offended that Kate and Justin have been married for ten years and are only now having a child because weren't sure they wanted one. The night ends in rage and grief when the downstairs neighbors go to leave and Theresa trips over Kate's cat in the hallway, taking a nasty tumble down the stairs and losing the baby. Jon and Theresa blame Justin and Kate because the light bulb at the top of the stairs was out, while Kate is quick to point out that Theresa was sneaking glasses of wine behind Jon's back and seemed a little tipsy. With Justin and Kate's baby due to arrive shortly, Jon and Theresa go away to get over their loss and when they return, baby Billy has arrived, apologies are exchanged all around and the neighbors decide to start fresh.

Being around Billy helps Theresa and Jon cope with their loss and their wish to become parents again, but strange things start happening: Billy gets sick from Kate's breast milk, the family arrives home to find the stove left on and the flat filled with gas, their bathtub overflows, and during a dinner downstairs, which is delayed because Jon is running late, Kate swears she hears someone on the baby monitor in Billy's room while the infant is asleep. Kate regularly lets Theresa babysit, and discovers she's been breastfeeding Billy, then finds family pictures with Jon, Theresa, and Billy. She's convinced the downstairs neighbors are plotting to steal Billy to replace the baby they lost and, of course, every time she finds proof, it disappears and she looks insane. It's no secret that Jon and Theresa are gaslighting Kate and turning Justin against his wife, but writer/director David Farr (who scripted HANNA and wrote several episodes of the popular MI-5) doles out the twists in a fairly perfunctory fashion, not bringing much in the way of style or showing any noteworthy skill in generating suspense. This could've been a nail-biting, HAND THAT ROCKS THE CRADLE-meets-ARLINGTON ROAD thriller, but it's so leisurely and predictable that you'll wonder exactly what the point is and why anyone even bothered. There's no momentum, no Polanski-esque sense of encroaching claustrophobia and helplessness as Kate starts going off the deep end to prove that she's not imagining things, that she didn't leave the stove on, that she didn't leave the bath water running. No, it just ambles along and when the big reveals come, you're shrugging because you saw them coming half an hour earlier. It doesn't help that Farr has Morrissey's Jon acting like an overly intense control freak from the moment he's introduced. THE ONES BELOW isn't terrible, but it displays no interest in doing anything out of the ordinary or with any urgency, feeling long even at a brief 86 minutes. It's shrugging ambivalence in feature film form. (R, 86 mins)

(US - 2016)

Obnoxious and unwatchable don't begin to describe this atrocious, straight-to-VOD party weekend-turned-zombie apocalypse retread. URGE is directed by Aaron Kaufman, a producing partner of Robert Rodriguez, and scripted by well-traveled journeyman Jerry Stahl, whose writing credits range from the 1982 porno CAFE FLESH and 2003's BAD BOYS II to TV shows THIRTYSOMETHING, ALF, CSI, and MARON, and whose battle with drug addiction was detailed in the grim memoir Permanent Midnight, which was turned into a 1998 movie with Ben Stiller. Stahl's first-hand knowledge of the horrors of drug abuse does nothing to enhance this vapid, empty film populated by the most insufferable douchebags you'll ever see. They're so loathsome that it's a relief when these Martin Shkrelis finally start dying off, because it means the movie's that much closer to being over. Dickhead tech billionaire brat Neil (Danny Masterson) invites some friends to a weekend retreat at a posh, exclusive island resort. Once there, Neil's pal Jason (Justin Chatwin) is taken to a backroom by a jester-suited halfwit known as The Red Bastard (Eric Davis), who introduces him to a vaping, Mephistophelian figure known only as The Man (Pierce Brosnan, who really should have better things to do). The Man presents to Jason a powerful new designer drug called Urge, which creates an incredible high and casts aside all inhibitions, leaving no residual side effects ("Imagine a key that unlocks that which is most hidden," The Man seductively promises), but comes with one caveat: you can only do it once in your lifetime (much like attempting to make it all the way through URGE). Of course, that rule is instantly disregarded, and while everyone else indulges and the weekend turns into a debauched, animalistic, EYES WIDE SHUT fuckfest, Jason remains strangely immune to the effects of Urge. Before long, everyone keeps doing more and more of the drug, resulting in increasingly aggro behavior that starts with longtime friends telling one another what they really think of them, to orgies and rough BDSM sex, brutal FIGHT CLUB throwdowns, and finally to an island full of Urge-addled dudebros and hotties going on a horrific, drug-induced, zombie-like rampage of bloodshed and slaughter.

URGE doesn't understand that it's hard to generate any suspense whatsoever when there isn't a single character in the film that you don't want to see die a violent, horrible death. It's pretty obvious that Brosnan's The Man is symbolic of the devil or temptation, but is this supposed to be cautionary tale about drug abuse? Or the dangers of living life as spoiled and entitled rich kids able to indulge any whim without consequence or accountability? Or what might happen to Daniel Craig once he's no longer James Bond?  A hammy Brosnan is the only reason to bother watching this half-assed synthetic drug redux of PONTYPOOL (unless you count brief bits to rope in any Jeff Fahey or Kevin Corrigan completists out there), but he's not in it enough to justify your suffering. By the time Jason and nice girl Joey (PITCH PERFECT's Alexis Knapp), who gives up Urge after it compels her to have a sexual encounter with a cake, realize they're the only ones not turned into raging-id zombies and try to flee the island, it's clear that Kaufman and Stahl are making this up as they go along and have no idea where to take it. After an abrupt non-ending, there's a stinger post-closing credits--which start at 81 minutes and go really slow to pad the running time--where a mother and her young son go into a NYC grocery store that's strangely dark and quiet, only to be attacked by a zombie horde, the drug virus spreading around the globe. It's supposed to be a shock ending, but the only shocking thing about it is that the mother is played by the once-promising Alison Lohman, who was supposed to be a Next Big Thing after 2002's WHITE OLEANDER and 2003's MATCHSTICK MEN. She appears to have put her career on hold after 2009's DRAG ME TO HELL to be a mom to her two kids with her husband, one-hit-wonder CRANK co-director Mark Neveldine, who's one of 32 credited producers here (along with someone named Kea Ho, who gives herself a prominent "introducing" credit for a tiny part as a stripper at The Man's club). The worst film of 2016 so far, URGE gets that most rare of Good Efficient Butchery assessments: fuck this movie. (R, 91 mins)

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