Recent but Iffy Lady Thrillers
by Kristin Battestella
I'm not seeking bad horror and suspense. I don't really like the so bad it's good perspective either. However, it just seems like recently this genre, be it foreign or domestic, has more than its fair share of big name ladies in peril trapped inside some unimpressive thrillers.
Two Emily Blunt Questionables
The Girl on the Train – Emily Blunt stars in this 2016 adaptation opening with a specific narration on particular addresses, passenger observations, and former neighbors. Our titular lost, lonely drunk has built up a fictitious biography, living vicariously through these strangers, and the voiceover lays the idealized history on thick before changing viewpoints to the objectified fitness guru getting on her naughty and her blonde boss – who also has ties to our original voyeur. These detailed character vignettes and grass is greener parallels make it tough to tell who is the main character while the unnecessary narrations and herky jerky inebriated flashes detract from the hurt reactions, spastic mirrors, and heartbreaking therapy sessions. Testy conversations between ex-husbands or new wives show the intertwined histories and on edge fantasies better, and bitter ladies do some good old fashion social media stalking when not blacking out and waking up with mysterious injuries. Interrogations reveal the commutes to nowhere, but the too brief female detective rightfully calling out the neighborly lookalike coincidences is made a nonentity. Uneven pacing and time jumps going from six months, two years, last week, and more back and forths reset the emotional abuse and spousal possession, deflating the intersecting stories with decoy characters, red herrings, and self inserting Mary Sue meddling. The aimless, drunken film frame disservices the terse conversations and straightforward mystery, leaving hollow affairs and creepy therapist temptations falling back on how you got him is how you lose him trite that's ridiculously easy to solve. The tacked on gaslighting comes with omnipresent evidence breaking the movie's previous viewpoints while our eponymous lady has several opportunities to get herself together but instead intrudes further into the sloppy out of order revelations and disjointed plot holes. Why not go to the scene of the crime to recover your memory sooner or call the police as you race to aide another woman? Why don't the police check on the male boss of a woman after clearing her husband and lover? There are five women in this cast, yet they are all still talking about men, babies, and sex. A potentially interesting discussion on the three stages of women as the has been, the happy wife, and the unhappy lover becomes unfortunately typical in defining a woman by marriage or motherhood: the has been because she can't have kids, the happy wife who has a kid, and the unhappy lover that doesn't want any. One can tell this was written by women but directed by a man, for there should be more to the mother or whore complex – a gal must be a lover in order to be a mother after all, and it shouldn't take being a victim to bring a woman to empowerment. The irony that Blunt was pregnant while playing a barren drinker adds more dimension, for this piece forgets its own clues and under utilizes its potential as a character study on how we think we know the stranger we see every day and how we may actually know the people closest to us the least. This is a very fine ensemble and fans of the cast may enjoy the puzzle, but the taut unravels too much and Mortal Thoughts did it better.
Wind Chill – Before she really came on in the last few years, Blunt did this prerequisite 2007 coeds going home for Christmas horror movie complete with little outerwear despite the frosty Vancouver locales standing in for rural PA and a too cool for school attitude via her super old cell phone and primitive texting. There are actual bulletin boards, nerdy classmates, and a crappy old front wheel drive sedan amid the bad accents, conceited philosophies, painted toe nails, and complaints about wearing glasses. Retro holiday tunes and clock countdowns create better highway monotony as idle chit chat reveals personal information and skeptical directions. The older protagonists do have some realistic conversations, arguments, and accusations – there's no need for time wasting music montages thanks to scenic detours, spin outs, snowy roads, and luring suspicions. What's romantic surprise to one is stalkerish orchestration to another, but a nor'easter's bringing thirty degrees below numbers and our hungry pair is trapped in their shoddy car overnight with nearby cemeteries and apparitions in the storm. Bodies in the snowdrift, abandoned monasteries, and bizarre police twists have all kinds of ghostly victims stopping by this overpass! Unfortunately, the fake outs, flashbacks, need to pee, and conserving body heat winks get typical alongside “I'll be right back” resets and false rescue hopes. The don't know why this is Rated R gore is laughable rather than scary, and the melodramatic conversations over a conveniently found newspaper giving the fifties history take too many leaps for the suspension of disbelief. Not naming the characters likewise hampers personality and character development – its not could be anybody relatable disaster bonding when the generic horror players can't even call each other by name. The natural dilemma and individual suspicions are dropped long before they decide to use the telephone pole box, and this confusion over being supernatural horror or natural thriller lacks a much needed zing. Cliche what doesn't kill you only makes you stronger growth goes on too long, and it all ends up too convenient when nobody bothered to try getting the car out of the snowbank in the first place.
And Two Star Vehicles to Skip
Shut In – Widowed Maine psychologist Naomi Watts (The Ring) is trapped in a storm while being haunted by little Jacob Tremblay (Room) in this 2016 international but already problematic PG-13 paint-by-numbers crammed with the isolated blonde, ghosts, kids horrors, weather perils, and one spooky basement. Accidents and home movies on the cell phone also laden the start before the lakeside locales, snowy blankets, and paraplegic burdens. The grief and inability to care for an invalid teen is understandable, and our step-mom considers sending him to a facility. However, the frazzled woman increasingly replacing her sick son with a younger therapy patient and the creepy temptations on holding the invalid under the bath water become hollow thanks to the obligatory it was just a dream jump cuts. Unnecessary technology and time wasting glances at watches and clocks are also intrusive – the camera focuses on dialing 911 with the finger poised over the send button and intercutting person to person like a traditional phone call flows much better than up close Skype screens. Weatherman warnings and news reports as the research montage lead to flashlights outside, icy footprints, and car alarms, but again the tension falls back on textbook raccoon scares with round and round scenes outside in the snow or inside on the phone doing little. Maybe one doesn't think straight in the panic, but most of those frosty searches include shouting for a deaf mute boy who can't hear you nor answer back. The psychology is also common fluff, i.e. teens have difficulty with divorce, you don't say – Skyping Oliver Platt (Chicago Med) provides better therapy, so we know what's going to happen to his character! Besides, all the shadows in the hallway, hidden wall panels, unexplained scratches, locked doors opening by themselves, and ghostly little hands in the bedroom yet the women still end up talking about a man. Fading in and out transitions mirror the sleeping pills and drinking, but such shifts break the world immersion before the storm even hits. When the doctor says her bloodwork indicates she's being drugged, mom doesn't even care – because the twist is for the audience not the main character. Lanterns, black out attacks, and video evidence right before the power failure could be good, but random people arrive despite blocked roads and the oedipal sociopath jealously provides a dumb chase finale as the stalker conveniently sing songs “Hush Little Baby” so we know where he is when he's coming for you. Good thing that foreboding blizzard talked about the entire movie stops in time for the lakeside happy ending that apparently has no legal, medical, or parental consequences.
The Tall Man – The northwestern blue collar and downtrodden mining town rustic set the scene for disappearing children and eponymous tales in this 2012 international co-production. Cool looking credits and an obligatory driving montage interrupt the opening thirty-six hours before flashback, sputtering the story with no point of view anchoring the disjointedness. Are we following widowed nurse Jessica Biel (A Kind of Murder) or deflecting with the shady townsfolk and family secrets? Not to mention the unnecessary, cryptic voiceover waxing on some dangerous evil and terrifying legend tells rather than shows – and it's the inner monologue of a willfully mute emo teen writing down what she wants to say in a journal. Well filmed household attacks and road perils add scrapes and bruises thanks to shadowed abductors, rusty vans, and killer dogs while abandoned factory buildings, creepy infrastructure, and hidden tunnels add atmosphere. A cobwebbed chapel, fire and brimstone sermons on the radio, and spooky wooded altars seem to be going somewhere with cult or supernatural aspects, but unfortunately, they remain mere red herrings. The You Go Girl action is also convenient to free bonds, track footprints, knockout attackers, or accidentally find the bad guy's hideout. Spying on officials and town mobs lead to reverse pursuits, and the 180 degree plot twists change the movie into something entirely different to what it says on the tin. More flashbacks and narrations give explanations that don't make much sense, and the perspective should have been one side of the story or the other – not an attempting to be clever deception between the two. For that switcharoo, I'd rather follow crusty sheriff William B. Davis (The X-Files) and desperate FBI agent Stephen McHattie (Orphan Black) investigating this supposed serial killer instead of some warped elitist white woman turned self proclaimed savior giving barren ladies a bad name. Whatever message being sent here is unclear thanks to this “good” child trafficking organization spin, and the finale tacks on another voiceover questioning whether kidnapping poor children and covertly placing them in rich homes is good or bad. o_O