Thursday, August 9, 2018

On Blu-ray/DVD: REVENGE (2018), MARROWBONE (2018), and 2036: ORIGIN UNKNOWN (2018)

(France/Belgium - 2018)

A throwback to both the French "extreme" horror movement of the mid-2000s as well as the vintage exploitation standby of the rape/revenge thriller, REVENGE hit international screens at just the moment that #MeToo and #TimesUp exploded in the global culture in the wake of the Harvey Weinstein scandal. As a result, many critics and bloggers seemed especially intent on making it a zeitgeist-capturing "issues" film when it really isn't. It's easy to see why molding it to fit a post-Weinstein narrative was easy: it's written and directed by Coralie Fargeat, working in a genre that's typically male-dominated from a behind-the-scenes standpoint. There's that, along with one of the main male villains spending the entire climax running around completely nude as he's being pursued by the vengeance-seeking Jen (a star-making performance by Matilda Lutz). Jen is the party-girl mistress of wealthy, married Richard (Kevin Janssens). He's got a weekend hunting trip planned at his posh desert getaway with two of his buddies, but he and Jen head out a day early to have the place to themselves. The buddies--Stan (Vincent Colombe) and Dimi (Guillaume Bouchede)--show up early and the quartet spend the evening drinking and having a good time. Jen and Stan do some playful slow dancing, and the next morning, while Richard is getting supplies for the hunt, Dimi is nursing a hangover, and Jen's packing so Richard's private chopper pilot can fly her home, Stan confronts her about "leading him on" and when she gets uncomfortable and tries to politely reject his advances, he rapes her as Dimi walks in, sees what's happening, closes the door, and turns up the volume on the living room TV to drown out the noise before blithely going for a swim. Richard returns and tries to calm Jen down, promising her a job with his company and wiring some money into her bank account to buy her silence. Furious that Richard's more concerned with protecting himself and his buddy than with her safety and well-being, she threatens to go to his wife, he belts her across the face, and she runs out of the house. The men chase her down, cornering her at a cliff as Richard pushes her off, impaling her on a tree branch and leaving her to die.

Of course, she survives, escaping with the branch still sticking out of her abdomen, and when Richard and the others return from their hunt assuming they'll dispose of her body, she's gone. After one of the more gruesome cauterization scenes in recent memory, Jen spends the rest of the film evading and eventually hunting down the trio, with results so violent and blood-soaked that it's really hard to believe this somehow managed to get an R rating. Even for the seasoned genre enthusiast, this is some pretty strong stuff, with one agonizing and painful scene with Stan rooting around inside his foot to remove a glass shard that goes on so absurdly long that a splatter newbie might very well throw up or pass out. Fargaet does a great job mining edge-of-your-seat suspense from Jen's pursuit of the men, often letting these scenes play out in long, real time takes. The final showdown between Jen and Richard is a wall-to-wall, floor-to-ceiling bloodbath. This is the kind of movie where a character has to Saran Wrap himself to keep his guts from spilling out. Lutz, previously seen in RINGS, which was hated by pretty much everyone, instantly establishes her genre bona fides in a ferocious performance that rivals Cristina Lindberg in Bo Arne Vibenius' THRILLER: A CRUEL PICTURE (1973) and Camille Keaton in Meir Zarchi's I SPIT ON YOUR GRAVE (1978). And with its gruesome revenge tropes and Richard's reprehensible victim-blaming ("You're so damn beautiful, it's hard to resist you," he says in an attempt to justify Stan's actions), those are the real antecedents here, albeit with a much diminished focus on the rape aspect (in another example of defying expectations, the rape mostly takes place offscreen, with Jen's cries for help drowned out by the TV), and some admittedly clunky, high school creative writing-level symbolic religious imagery, from a rotten apple to Jen's impalement on the tree being a sort-of crucifixion. Other than the novelty of being directed by a woman and exhibiting more male nudity than female, REVENGE isn't making any statement about empowerment that Vibenius and Zarchi didn't make over 40-plus years ago. But even as a present-day homage to those cult classics, REVENGE is a riveting, visceral experience, and a breakout not just for Lutz, who throws herself into this fearless abandon, but also Fargeat, who's obviously a filmmaker to watch. (R, 108 mins)

(Spain - 2017; US release 2018)

The Spanish-made, English-language thriller MARROWBONE is the feature directing debut of Sergio G. Sanchez, best known as the writing partner of Guillermo del Toro protege and JURASSIC PARK: FALLEN KINGDOM director J.A. Bayona on 2007's THE ORPHANAGE and 2012's THE IMPOSSIBLE. Bayona is onboard as an executive producer here, and THE ORPHANAGE's influence is felt throughout, along with shades of the 1977 cult classic THE LITTLE GIRL WHO LIVES DOWN THE LANE, at least until the twists and turns start becoming apparent. The story is structured as such that said twists and turns are calculated too far in advance to be as effective as they should be, and MARROWBONE is a film that feels like it should've been made a decade ago. Set in 1969, it begins with American expat Rose Fairbairn (Nicola Harrison) fleeing England with her four children--adult Jack (George Mackay), late teens Jane (Mia Goth) and Billy (Charlie Heaton), and young Sam (Matthew Stagg)--across the Atlantic all the way to Marrowbone, her family's namesake ancestral home in a remote area of Maine. The reasons are initially vague--something about an abusive father--and the journey prompts a precipitous decline in Rose's health. She dies not long after they settle in and shortly after that, their father (Tom Fisher) finds them, appearing out of the nearby forest and taking a shot at Jane through her bedroom window.

Sanchez then immediately jumps ahead six months, and that incident isn't mentioned again until much later, the first clear sign that vital info is being withheld from the audience and that there's an obvious twist with more to come after that. The longer Sanchez draws it out and throws in other subplots--the reveal of the real reason they left England and a scandal involving their father being dubbed "The Beast of Bampton" by the British press; Jack courting local librarian Allie (Anya Taylor-Joy) and vying for her affections with Porter (Kyle Soller), the smarmy lawyer in charge of the Marrowbone estate; Jack's efforts to keep his mother's death a secret and deal with an attempted blackmailing by Porter; and Jack's insistence that only he go to town for errands while his siblings stay at the house--the more likely you are to figure out most of the third act developments that start flying fast and furious after an extremely slow buildup. There's some effective atmosphere throughout and some creepy moments here and there (little Sam's encounter with "the ghost" in their mother's room and the gradual realization that something is in the attic), but by the end, the twists and reveals are just deployed at an almost absurd rate, to the point where once everything is explained and rationally tied together, it becomes harder to swallow than what might've transpired otherwise. The performances are good, particularly Mackay, and Sanchez does a nice job at building some tension, but by the end, it just feels like the end result of recycling some leftover ORPHANAGE ideas after binge-watching some earlier M. Night Shyamalan. (R, 110 mins)

(UK - 2018)

A sci-fi thriller so bad that its only surprise is that Netflix failed to acquire it, 2036: ORIGIN UNKNOWN wastes a committed performance by BATTLESTAR GALACTICA's Katee Sackhoff in what's largely a one-woman show. After a failed mission to Mars in 2030 resulted in the deaths of the entire crew, all space missions became manned with an artificial intelligence working in conjunction with a human "supervisor" there to ensure AI functionality. In 2036, Mackenzie "Mack" Wilson (Sackhoff) is a supervisor on a return mission to Mars, but she's informed at launch--by her bureaucratic older sister Lena (Julie Cox), who runs mission control--that she's been demoted to second in command behind ARTi (voiced by Steven Cree), the sentient, British-accented AI system that was also part of the 2030 mission, whose victims included Mack's and Lena's father. The assignment is to investigate a mysterious cube-like structure that has suddenly appeared on Mars and is demonstrating an ability to teleport. Mack is hesitant to put all of her trust in ARTi, arguing that "We created AI to help us, not to lead us." If this sounds familiar, you're right: 2036: ORIGIN UNKNOWN is basically celebrating the 50th anniversary of a Stanley Kubrick masterpiece by offering up 95 minutes of  shamelessly derivative, nutsack-riding 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY fan fiction, at least until an infuriating finale where it sees fit to reference EX MACHINA Turing tests before wrapping things up as a blatant ripoff of MOON. The mission is eventually joined by Sterling (Ray Fearon), one of Mack's colleagues, and director Hasraf "Haz" Dulull even has the chutzpah to stage a scene where Mack and Sterling sneak away to have a private conversation and are spied on by HAL 9--...er, I mean, ARTi. Dulull has a lot of experience on the visual effects and pre-viz teams of numerous big-budget Hollywood movies like HELLBOY II: THE GOLDEN ARMY, THE DARK KNIGHT, and PRINCE OF PERSIA: THE SANDS OF TIME, in addition to the TV documentary series NOVA. The interior ship design is handsomely mounted and Dulull admirably makes 2036: ORIGIN UNKNOWN look much more expensive than it is, but even that falls on its face for a few scattered action bits that are badly rendered with laughably cheap effects more fitting for a 20-year-old sci-fi TV show. Devotees of Sackhoff will no doubt have to watch this, but know going in that she's better than the material and this is the maybe the dullest and dreariest sci-fi flick to come down the pike since 1987's NIGHTFLYERS. (Unrated, 95 mins)

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