Happy (belated) New Year! I hope that you haven’t missed me too much (traveling all over the world, but now I’m back and rarin’ to get reviewin’!)
I thought I would make up for my absence in the past month or so with a mega-review of three indie features that I had the chance to watch during my travels. In these film reviews I will try to delve into specific things that I think were well-done and that we can learn from these other artists and creatives.
So, without further ado…
Piercing (2018) – https://www.imdb.com/title/tt6516314/?ref_=nv_sr_1
A man kisses his wife and baby goodbye and seemingly heads away on business, with a plan to check into a hotel, call an escort service, and kill an unsuspecting prostitute.
A man stands over a newborn baby’s crib holding a screwdriver. As the baby continues to cry, the man’s grip tightens on the screwdriver and he lifts it over the baby’s head…
This is a great silent opening to the “contained” psychological horror that is Piercing. The plot (above) is simple, effective and the logline leaves room/potential for lots of twists and turns which is exactly what we want when we are pitching our film/script.
Also, this is based on a novel which I am sure didn’t hurt the sales pitch and is always, as Hank says, a nice little addition to the bottom of your title page.
So, with everything going for it, how does this film ultimately do?
Unfortunately, it falls a little flat in the execution.
Firstly, it is not that contained as was promised in the pitch – I thought a majority would take place in one hotel room, ala Bug, but it did not. Specifically, the story moves around a lot (from the streets, to a hospital, to an apartment, etc.) which I was a bit disappointed in. This could have functioned much better (in my opinion) as a stage play, though it would need a quick rewrite to keep everything more contained.
Secondly, the cat-and-mouse games between the man and the mystery woman are very brief and don’t really make up much of the runtime (or make any real sense), which I thought was a missed opportunity. It was also heavily featured in the trailer, so it is a bit of a marketing mishap or misdirection.
Thirdly, very little explanation is given for any of the characters, their motivations or actions – things happen in order to move the plot forward and some things that happen are never mentioned again, rendering their reveals a bit pointless. Don’t do this in your story! Every action, every reaction, every decision should be grounded in the the character and their individual wants and needs (which can – and should – change as the story moves along). Otherwise, you will have your reader (and eventual audience) scratching their heads and rolling their eyes as things that make no sense in the context of the story start to happen.
That said, I do love the general concept and I really like the noir, comic book-y style that it was shot in. For a piece like this, a stylized Sin City kind of texture fits very well and draws you into the world.
In addition, there is a reveal about halfway through (no spoilers) that I really liked and thought was a great twist, but that ultimately led nowhere which was a real disappointment because it seemed to change the entire structure of the story and the lens in which we viewed everything that was happening. There is so much that could have been done with this reveal, but it is instead left hanging.
I would say wait for this one to come to Amazon or Netflix, but it may be worth a watch if you are a fan of contained thrillers, even if just to take a moment to reflect on what you would do differently if you were writing the story.
Braid (2019) – https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4638148/?ref_=nv_sr_1
Two wanted women decide to rob their wealthy psychotic friend who lives in the fantasy world they created as children; to take the money they have to take part in a deadly perverse game of make believe.
First, let me say that this piece is certainly more style than substance. It is heavily stylized (think Natural Born Killers or Smokin’ Aces – image below) and the visuals and atmosphere take precedence over the plot.
However, upon reflection, I really loved this film. It is an impressive directorial debut by Mitzi Peirone (it was also written by her, which may be how she got the license to go for broke with the story) and is worth watching for the off-putting atmosphere it creates alone.
The story (above) is female-centric, with the only male being the single detective who begins to get suspicious of the girls and the dark activities taking place at the house.
This is another contained piece (that is really contained this time!) with three main actors and a couple of supporting roles, but the cost of the VFX probably upped the budget by a few million.
What I really loved about this film was how ambiguous it was – in many ways similar to a David Lynch project where there are few answers, but many questions and takeaways.
Why do the girls continue with the game? How long have they been in the house? What is the endgame here? What does their host really want? Who is the cop that keeps dropping by? What does their host really know about their dark intentions? How far will the game go?
This is a piece that will leave you thinking and discussing with friends and other film critics, but no easy answers are available. When done well, I really adore this type of movie: one that makes me think, analyze and question everything presented to me.
What I will say is that this is not a film for everyone (Captain, here’s looking at you) and if you checked it out, but found yourself turned off by the visuals, secondary plot or the ultimate resolution, I would completely understand.
That said, I do give this one my recommendation and encourage you to seek it out and support up-and-coming filmmakers and indie films from around the world!
The Sisters Brothers (2018) – https://www.imdb.com/title/tt4971344/?ref_=nv_sr_1
In 1850s Oregon, a gold prospector is chased by the infamous duo of assassins, the Sisters brothers.
First off, let me say this is not a comedy. The trailers and many of the marketing materials seemed to pitch it as a dark comedy (or even similar to Seth MacFarlane’s A Million Ways to Die in the West) which it is not at all.
Instead, what we get is a very slow-paced, nihilistic character-piece that really doesn’t seem to know what it wants to say or where it wants to go.
Our story follows two different pairs of men: The Sisters Brothers who have been sent to find a kill a man (Riz Ahmed) who holds the secret to a revolutionary way to prospect gold and Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed who form an unlikely bond as they attempt to escape the Brothers.
What I found is that I was more drawn to Jake Gyllenhaal and Riz Ahmed’s story/characters, which is probably not a great thing when you have titled your film “The Sisters Brothers” and yet they are not the most interesting pair in your film.
Now, I love all of the actors involved: Joaquin Phoenix, Jake Gyllenhaal, Riz Ahmed and John C. Rilly are amazing and do a great job in this with what they are given, the problem was the pacing and plot. There is hardly any plot and we move at a painfully slow pace for 2 hours. I can’t imagine this in script form, as it would be very easy to put down for the loooonnnggg stretches of little to no action or forward plot movement.
Also, there are almost no female roles – in fact, there is only one that I noticed (Rebecca Root who gets about three speaking lines), though there are about six in total listed on IMDB. This was noticeable and interesting to me in our current times and it did feel a little strange.
On the positive side, this film does look beautiful and there are some great moments (like the first scene in which a shootout takes place in pitch black and all you can see is the muzzle flashes as each gun goes off), but ultimately, I can’t recommend it unless you are a die-hard western fan.
So, why did this get the greenlight you may be wondering? Well, if you take a look at the writing credits, you would find the faithful “Based on the Book By…” credit, which is a big selling point, as discussed previously. Pair that with any of the name actors attached and people likely perked up their ears to hear more about this offbeat western.
That said, many of us are not fortunate enough to have the rights to a well-known or best-selling novel, so we have to make sure that we have a hook and can capitalize on our unique premise/take and keep our readers interested from page 1 to 100.
But what did you think? Have you seen any of these films? Let me know in the comments!
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