Dames and Doppelgangers
by Kristin Battestella
Well I think these monster fighting, dual role playing, and spooky butt kicking ladies from across the decades deserve a second look!
Another Me – Sophie Turner (Game of Thrones), Jonathan Rhys Meyers (The Tudors), Rhys Ifans (Anonymous), and Claire Fiorlani (Meet Joe Black) anchor this 2013 British/Spanish doppelganger teen thriller which is admittedly poorly structured and padded to start with violent dreams, a trying to be ominous narration, and critical family moments shown in flashback rather than real time. More Macbeth and high school play jealously cliches, emo photography, and music moments litter the first ten minutes, but Meyers makes for a dreamy drama teacher alongside lingering shadows, assorted reflections, filming through windows, and double camera trickery. Coming and going gaslighting a neighbor, quick passing glances, double takes, and ignored graffiti warnings add simmer while single white female same haircuts and frienemy understudies shape a waiting in the aside, play within a play dual layer. Stairs to and tunnels fro delay the foreboding but the claustrophobic, up close elevator panic is well done amid fine illness, adulterous stupidity, and marital breakdowns. We don't see many scary encounters – just an overreacting teenager jumping to conclusions when she could have, you know, asked her parents if there was an in utero twin problem. The pace is slow and unsure in giving the character drama room or allowing for the supposed to be spooky. A tale can be both but the round and round builds up to a bigger scare that doesn't happen, the physicality of it all is never really explained, and the outcome is fairly obvious. It might have been interesting to have seen the villain, experienced her double interactions, and witness some opposite acting chops from Turner. Fine twists do happen, but with seven minutes of credits eating into the 85 minute runtime, writer and director Isabel Coixet (My Life without Me) needed both more development time for the deserving cast and a tighter focus on the phenomena. This is nothing new to longtime scary viewers – similar plots have been done better in The Twilight Zone's “Mirror Image” and Poe's “William Wilson” – but the PG-13 spooky will be entertaining for younger audiences.
The Dark – The viewer can't see much to start this 1994 nighttime eerie thanks to the titular low budget coverage, and the first fifteen minutes of ho hum Van Damme diner action trite is unnecessary alongside poor editing and badly placed ominous crescendos interfering with the real under the cemetery monster plot convergence and ex FBI agent Brion James' (Blade Runner) conflict. Our main golly gee groundsman is also weak, but there is room for grave digging humor, daylight cemetery research, and you know, headstones being sucked into the ground. Toxic contamination and mutant animal possibilities are interesting, and having a pre-Scream Neve Campbell as an investigating Mountie isn't as bad as it sounds. Although cops tying themselves together with ropes and going down into the tunnel under the cemetery at night with only a glock and a lighter is totally a no brainer! The lack of subtitles helps in overlooking some bad dialogue, however captions would have clarified the healing DNA properties and technical science talk. It's better that we don't really see the whole pseudo prehistoric beastie, just a largely undefined head, shadowed teeth, slimy drool, and grabby reptile hands. Though laughable at times, the dangerous sinkholes and falling through the graveyard ground remain scary, monster or not. And say hey, a waitress and a lady cop talking about monsters passes the Bechdel test! A lot of the 90 minutes here is B picture run of the mill, but there are enough creepy possibilities and inadvertent humor for a late night Halloween marathon.
Dead of Winter – Stairs, wheelchairs, a photographer in a cast, and a suspicious glass of milk – director Arthur Penn (Bonnie and Clyde) accents this 1987 doppelganger thriller with Hitchcock references, blustery snowscapes, isolated mansions, and down phone lines. Red nails, long cigarettes, fedoras, holiday music, antiques, dark roads, and retro cars evoke an eighties meets forties noir mood while struggling actress Mary Steenburgen (Melvin and Howard) leaves her crowded apartment for a seemingly lucrative acting job. The audience expects some deception thanks to a psychiatrist turned producer Jan Rubes (Witness), mirrors, creepy photos, cameras, and television playbacks toying with a film within a film duality. However, the basic reveals happen early, and the unseen faces, violent car attacks, and suspect make overs build pace and twists for the identity games afoot. Television static, distorted cinematography, attic passages, mice, and hidden bodies add to the crazy switcharoos, and Roddy McDowell (Planet of the Apes) is a delightfully passive aggressive pressure cooker to match Steenburgen's superb triple duty performance. Sure, some of the Mary on Mary fight scenes may be amusing because we know the cinema tricks involved, but the twofold filming is also well done considering such difficulty. Despite some unclear blackmail and money MacGuffin schemes, wild screams, finger cuttings, and increasing peril top this one off nicely.
But a Skipper
Breeders – This 1997 remake of alien monsters and mating coeds is also called Deadly Instincts and is an Isle of Man production. Who knew? Unfortunately, rather than monsters at university run amok, this is set on an American campus with Boston logos galore and embarrassing basketball scenes. Could you have chosen a tougher accent to destroy? Not to mention this is an all girl school but the throwback male hero is named Ashley just to keep the shouts and screams confusing. The opening interstellar graphics look like bad porn designs, as does the duct tape and tinfoil our alien lady is wearing, and the meh monster design is nonsensical with crystals, slime, and some kind of glow necklaces impregnating chicks. Was there no budget left for gore after buying all the Boston stickers for the police cars? The cops seem more like unnecessarily antagonistic mobsters, and the barely there plot somehow devolves into snipers in the sewers shooting themselves instead of the mini wannabe Godzilla. The only redeemable thing here would be a healthy dose of expected horror exploitations, but the catfights, lingering thigh zooms, cheap makeouts, ass shots, naked locker room jiggle, and shower conversations are so gosh darn tame it takes the fun out of everything. This is an hour too long – even at 1.5 speed nothing happens – and schlock like this is for a drinking game only.