Film Reviews: The Babadook & If I Stay

These reviews were originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 2 September 2014.

Film Review: The Babadook

Australian screenwriter and director Jennifer Kent has a critical hit on her hands with The Babadook, her feature debut. An atmospheric horror thriller, it is an intense cinema experience which will stay with you all the way home (in the dark in my case) and beyond. I’m definitely going to check the basement for ghoulies before I go to bed, and I don’t even have a basement.

The ever reliable Essie Davis (Miss Fisher’s Murder Mysteries) stars as Amelia, a single mum still reeling emotionally from the death of her husband seven years ago in a car crash on her way to the hospital to give birth to their son, Robbie (Daniel Henshall). Barely coping with Robbie’s behavioural issues and irrational (but normal) fear of monsters under the bed and in the closet, their lives fall apart when Amelia comes across a mysteriously creepy pop-up book about The Babadook.

Using a modest budget, with some dollars generated by a Kickstarter crowd funding campaign, Kent makes the most of a creepy old Adelaide house, a little CGI, a super scary sound design and plenty of darkness.

Unlike most conventional films of this genre, there’s a real emotional heart to this film, and I found myself genuinely caring for the characters. The performances of Davis and Henshall are superb. See The Babadook (even through your fingers  or under a blanket if necessary) before he finds you.

Film Review: If I Stay

After sitting through this disaster, I figured that the title referred to the question of whether I would stay for all 106 slow minutes of this cheese-fest. I did, but only in the name of film criticism and to save others from wasting their time. Letters of thanks may be sent to the CWD.

If I Stay is actually based on a popular young adult novel of the same name. Mia Hall (Chloë Grace Moretz) is a brilliant cello playing teenager experiencing her first love with the most clean cut baby faced lead singer of a rock band ever, Adam Wilde (Jamie Blackley). When inclement weather results in a school “snow day”, her hipster parents (Mireille Enos and Joshua Leonard) stupidly decide that a road trip with her brother (Jakob Davies) is a good idea.

One inevitable car accident and three deaths later, Mia has an out of body experience running barefoot around the local hospital, watching her family and friends keeping vigil over her comatose body unconvincingly lying in the ICU (hint: don’t watch this film with hospital staff…actually just don’t watch this film).

Will Mia return to the land of the living? Will she go to “the light” (I was cheering for this one)? Why does Mia have to wait for doors to be opened for her, if she is a ghost? What sort of idiot boyfriend would break up with a girl for successfully auditioning for the Juilliard School? Who cares?

Miss Grace Moretz is a talented actress but she is way too good for this material. The rest of the cast, including screen legend Stacy Keach, do their best with a turgid script, which never rises above an episode of The O.C.

I admit that I am not the key demographic for this type of film, but there’s no reason that cinema for teens and tweeners should not be intelligent and thought provoking. If I Stay is neither.

Published in: on October 5, 2014 at 14:31  Leave a Comment  
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Film Reviews: The Maze Runner & Sin City 2: A Dame to Kill For

These reviews were originally published in the Central Western Daily on Tuesday 30 September 2014.

Film Review: The Maze Runner

Based on yet another young adult fiction book series that you will never read, The Maze Runner initially shows promise. Within seconds, the audience is thrust into the action as our amnesiac protagonist arrives via elevator at “The Glade”. We share his disorientation as he attempts to remember who he is, establish his place within the primitive society developed by his fellow inmates and discover why he has been dropped into the middle of a giant labyrinth.

I had high hopes for this film. Sure, I prefer my labyrinths with Muppets, Jennifer Connelly and David Bowie (in a fright wig) but the premise intrigued me. Unfortunately, what first time feature director Wes Ball delivers is a fun ride which ultimately frustrates.

This truly is a teen action film by numbers. We have a dystopian future where unprepared teens are thrown into a deadly high concept arena as part of some nefarious conspiracy. Sound familiar?

As the lead, Dylan O’Brien (TV’s Teen Wolf) is appealing but certainly does have the charisma that Jennifer Lawrence radiates in The Hunger Games franchise. Actor on the rise, Will Poulter (We’re the Millers, Son of Rambow) impresses as the alpha male of the group. In a testosterone heavy cast, lone female castaway Kaya Scodelario (TV’s Skins) does her best with an underwritten role.

The film hits its stride once we leave The Glade (think Lord of the Flies meets Peter Pan’s Lost Boys meets an all male summer camp) and start exploring the deadly titular labyrinth. The set designs are inspired, as are the deadly spider-like Grievers which roam the maze.

By the last act, it becomes clear that no resolution will be given to any plot strands. The credits roll on a cliffhanger and you’ll leave the cinema with nothing but questions and a slightly bad taste in your mouth.

Film Review: Sin City : A Dame to Kill For

From the “sequels that no-one asked for” department comes the follow-up to the visually stunning and highly original Sin City (2005). By virtue of being more of the same, co-directors Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller have managed to concoct three more graphic novel-inspired noir tales that now have little impact from a visual style perspective. And also now in pointless 3D.

The majority of the original cast return for this outing, including Mickey Rourke as the overcoat wearing killer Marv. Well received as a supporting character in the original, gruff tough guy Marv is now a central character, which for me is now a case of too much of a good thing. Bruce Willis, Rosario Dawson and Jessica Alba reprise their roles, joining newcomers Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Josh Brolin and a very naked Eva Green.

The bullets fly and the white blood flows thick. Once you become accustomed (or re-accustomed) to the visuals, it’s just a matter of whether you appreciate the very deliberate storytelling style of the film. I didn’t. I just felt completely disconnected from what was happening on the screen. Maybe that is the desired effect.

Strangely released during the school holidays, this particularly non-kid friendly film is likely to sink without a trace at the box office. Wait for the DVD, or even better still, read the graphic novel.

Published in: on October 5, 2014 at 14:28  Leave a Comment  
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