Movie Review ~ The Girl in the Spider’s Web


The Facts
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Synopsis: Young computer hacker Lisbeth Salander and journalist Mikael Blomkvist find themselves caught in a web of spies, cybercriminals and corrupt government officials.

Stars: Claire Foy, Sverrir Gudnason, Lakeith Stanfield, Sylvia Hoeks, Cameron Britton, Stephen Merchant, Claes Bang, Christopher Convery, Synnøve Macody Lund, Vicky Krieps

Director: Fede Alvarez

Rated: R

Running Length: 117 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (5/10)

Review: When 2011’s U.S. remake of the 2009 Swedish phenomenon The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo failed to bring in the kind of audience Columbia Pictures and MGM was hoping for, the two planned sequels were put on an indefinite hold.  What a pity.  Though the remake had its share of detractors, it was a compelling mystery and expertly made film that took its time to explore the characters and wasn’t afraid to wallow in some dark material.  Director David Fincher is a master at what he does and the look and feel of the movie, not to mention the fantastic performances from Rooney Mara (who received an Oscar nom for her work) and Daniel Craig, has helped to keep the film a singular experience.

Deciding to skip the two direct sequels and start over with a new novel released in 2015 brought a challenge. With Fincher, Craig, and Mara all released from their contracts and on to different projects, when the time came to bring the franchise back to life for The Girl in the Spider’s Web the studio had to go back to the drawing board and find a new director and star.  Bringing on rising director Fede Alvarez (Evil Dead) and hiring Claire Foy (Breathe) as the titular character were impressive gambles that don’t completely pay off.  The resulting film works fine as a standard thriller if you didn’t have any previous knowledge of the characters but as a continuation of what Fincher started back in 2011 (and what really began with the original film trilogy in 2009) it misses the mark by a longshot.

It’s been three years since the events of The Girl in the Dragon Tattoo and computer hacker Lisbeth Salander has become a not-so-secret vigilante of sorts in Stockholm, coming to the aid of women wronged by men.  The opening of the film (spoiled, like much of the movie, by trailers that have given away far too many key plot points) finds Salander giving a wife beater a bit of sweet vengeance.  Foy plays the exchange like she’s buying carpet for her rec room at IKEA, it’s fine to be emotionally removed from these abusers but her monotone delivery suggests boredom rather than detachment.

Salander’s ally Mikael Blomkvist (Sverrir Gudnason) hasn’t seen her since her wrote an exposé centered on her family.  Though his editor and sometime lover Erika (a sadly underused Vicky Krieps, Phantom Thread) urges him to move on, he can’t forget the troubled girl. Much like Fincher’s film, Alvarez keeps Lisbeth and Mikael apart for a good half of the film but unlike the previous entry when they do share screen time there’s next to no spark between the two.  That’s partly because the dynamic in this movie feels like it’s shifted and Mikael is now more of a second banana to Lisbeth’s main character.

When Lisbeth is asked to retrieve a computer program that becomes a threat to the national security of America and Sweden, she’s thrown into a conspiracy that will bring her back to painful memories (and people) of her childhood.  If you’ve read the book The Girl in the Spider’s Web is based off of, be prepared for major changes.  For fun, after the screening I read the plot synopsis of the novel and was amazed at the liberties screenwriters Alvarez, Jay Basu, and Steven Knight took with David Lagercrantz’s original text, rendering it almost wholly new.  For what it’s worth, the novel sounded far more muddled and complicated, something that wouldn’t have translated easily to the screen.

That leaves Alvarez to cut his own course with the material, leaving out the connective tissue that helped make The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo such an intriguing mystery.  There’s no real thought process from anyone in the movie, they either just “know” the answer to a perplexing puzzle or whatever methods they use to figure things out happen offscreen.  One example is a character in the U.S. who is trying to locate a hacker by tracing their location.  The location is narrowed down to Stockholm, at which time the character grabs his coat and runs directly to the airport…because Stockholm is so specific. Part of what makes these kind of films fun is playing detective alongside our lead characters but here we are so far removed that it’s like someone is reading us a story instead of inviting us to follow along.

The screenwriters also make a giant leap in turning Lisbeth into more of a superhero than a heroine.  She takes a licking and keeps on ticking, bouncing back from explosions and beatings needing little to no recovery time.  One moment Lisbeth has been drugged and the next she’s snorted some crushed opioids and is driving a car in pursuit of cybercriminals.  She also has a curious knack for knowing the right way out of dead end.

I’ve enjoyed Foy in her films so far in 2018.  She was great in the paranoid thriller Unsane and good in October’s First Man.  Here she’s merely OK and it’s mostly due to her being miscast as an edgy character lacking bite.  Mara and her Swedish counterpart Noomi Rapace played Lisbeth as damaged goods, alternately withdrawn and feral which led to her being unpredictable.  Foy isn’t afforded much in the way of surprise so we’re just tagging along for what is largely an unremarkable ride for the actress.

As a jumpy NSA agent on Salander’s trail, Lakeith Stanfield is even more of an enigma.  There’s no backstory to his character by way of an introduction nor do we get any blanks filled in along the way.  We get a sense he’s good at his job but how spectacular can he be if he’s constantly bested by Salander and the thugs on her trail?  By the time he’s somehow called on to be an expert marksman in an admittedly nicely constructed action scene, I sort of stopped asking questions.

The best performance in the whole film is Sylvia Hoeks as a ice blonde specter from Lisbeth’s past.  Dressed head to toe in red and never speaking above a child-like purr, she’s intimidating without even raising a finger.  It does veer toward campy Bond villainess at times (the whole film feels like a gender-bending Bond romp, actually) but Hoeks knows exactly what film she’s in and sinks her teeth into every bit of scenery she can get her hands on.  Much like she did with her unsettling character in Blade Runner 2049, she becomes the focal point of any scene she’s in.

Alvarez shows off some style in his eye for imaginative camera angles with the help of cinematographer Pedro Luque (Don’t Breathe) and slightly macabre visuals but he is far more restrained than he was in previous films.  Aside from one rather ghastly sight of a man missing a key piece of his face it’s relatively tame.  I appreciated that he included a brief title sequence, nicely echoing the unforgettable pulse-pounding nightmare credit sequence of the first film.  The music by Roque Baños (In the Heart of the Sea) helps to set the mood, even if that mood too often requires Baños to veer into action movie histrionics.

I’m not sure what the impetus was for the studios to revive this franchise again in 2018 (were they about to lose the rights?) but they’ve given us another chapter in the Dragon Tattoo collection that doesn’t even feel like it’s in the same universe as what’s come before.  The characters deserve better, the actors deserve better, we deserve better.

The Silver Bullet ~ The Girl in the Spider’s Web

Synopsis: Young computer hacker Lisbeth Salander and journalist Mikael Blomkvist find themselves caught in a web of spies, cybercriminals and corrupt government officials.

Release Date: November 9, 2018

Thoughts: Though 2011’s American remake of the Swedish sensation The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo was well received by critics (earning an Oscar nomination for star Rooney Mara in the process), it didn’t do the kind of box office numbers that inspired Sony Pictures to keep the franchise going.  When a continuation of the original trilogy of novels was released, the interest in resurrecting the computer hacker heroine grew which is why we’re now getting an all-new take on Lisbeth Salander in The Girl in the Spider’s Web.  With Claire Foy (Breathe) taking over for Mara and Fede Alvaraz (Don’t Breathe) assuming directing duties from David Fincher, this first look suggests the same dark vibe as the previous entry.  Foy looks to have morphed nicely into the rough and tumble Salander and I’m excited for Blade Runner 2049 breakout Sylvia Hoeks to be featured briefly in this teaser. 

Movie Review ~ Don’t Breathe

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A group of friends break into the house of a wealthy blind man, thinking they’ll get away with the perfect heist. They’re wrong.

Stars: Jane Levy, Dylan Minnette, Daniel Zovatto, Stephen Lang

Director: Fede Alvarez

Rated: R

Running Length: 88 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (7.5/10)

Review: I’m getting old.  I mean, that’s really the only explanation because I think if I’d have seen Don’t Breathe a decade ago I would have given it practically a perfect score.  But…I’m older and, I think, wiser and my better judgement tells me that while this home invasion thriller hits many of the right notes (and, for a good stretch of time creates a near-symphony) there’s something overly slick about it that keeps it from being the true horror masterpiece the poster quotes would have you believe. Still, in a summer with box office duds that are horrors unto themselves (I’m looking at you, Suicide Squad), Don’t Breathe arrives in the last gasp of August with some refreshingly fresh air.

I simply hate movies that start out with a flash forward to the end of the film only to fold back on themselves and take you back to how it all began.  While I don’t often read other reviews in full before catching a screening, my #1 trusted reviewer Brian Orndof mentioned in his review that it would be a good idea to arrive a few minutes late so you miss what might be considered too much of a spoiler.  I’d go further and say you should arrive a full fifteen minutes after it starts because the opening stretch of Don’t Breathe is pretty terrible.  Bad acting, bad exposition, and bad dialogue had me wondering if we’d all been pranked into thinking this was horror on a higher level.

Three teens spend their aimless days breaking into houses in the Detroit area, committing petty burglary not so much for the monetary benefits but seeking some kind of thrill to break up their dead end lives.  Rocky (Jane Levy, Fun Size) and Money (Daniel Zovatto, It Follows) would likely think of themselves as a modern day Bonnie & Clyde…if I believed they had any clue who the doomed burglars were.  Tagging along is Alex (Dylan Minnette, Goosebumps) who not only holds an obvious torch for Rocky but the keys to the security systems his dad oversees.

When Money gets a tip on a score big enough to get them out of town, the trio decide to stage one last heist before retiring to a sunny life in L.A.  Located in an abandoned neighborhood, the house they set their sights on belongs to a blind veteran (Stephen Lang, The Nut Job) who, aside from owning a cranky Rottweiler, appears harmless.  Breaking into the house is easy…but getting out is another story.

It’s best to keep the details slim about what happens over the next 75 minutes but rest assured that right about the time you think you know what’s coming next, the tables get flipped and then flipped again and then broken apart and then the pieces thrown at you. Much like their Evil Dead remake in 2013, high points go to writers Fede Alvarez (who also directs and reteams with his Evil Dead star Levy) and Rodo Sayagues for keeping things unpredictable until the very end.  This isn’t nearly as gory or bloody as Evil Dead was, but it has head-spinning, armrest clenching, and eye-covering shocks all its own.

As original as the film is, it has a few flaws mostly involving pacing and performance.  Even at a trim 88 minutes it feels slightly slack in the opening half, saving the major adrenaline thrills for right around the mid-point before sputtering through multiple endings.  While Levy and Lang make for prime prey and predator, Minette is bland and Zovatto’s thug comes across like a parody done better on SNL.  Lang’s blind veteran eventually takes shape as an unstoppable force ala Jason Voorhees or Michael Myers, and though I applaud Alvarez for letting the actors appear bruised and bloodied the “takes a licking and keeps on ticking” trope feels worn out by the final credits (which, by the way, are impressive).

For horror aficionados, Don’t Breathe may be the summer movie they were most excited to see and for that, it doesn’t disappoint.  It may have some cracks and creaks to it but the house that Alvarez and company build mostly holds up to the storm.

The Silver Bullet ~ Don’t Breathe

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Synopsis: A group of teens break into a blind man’s home thinking they’ll get away with the perfect crime. They’re wrong.

Release Date:  August 26, 2016

Thoughts: If you believe the early buzz (and you often can’t), Don’t Breathe is going to be one of those word of mouth flicks that seem to arrive at their release date with a lot going for them only to fizzle out after its first weekend.  True, the horror genre is a bit limited at any time of the year but in the waning summer months it can be hard to drum up excitement/scares when audiences are exhausted after the effects-a-paloozas they’ve sat through so far this year.  What gets this one a higher position on my radar is what’s going on behind the scenes.  The director is Fede Alvarez who successfully remade Evil Dead in 2013 as a gore-orgy that was as impressive visually as it was scary.  Another Evil Dead alum, Jane Levy (Fun Size), stars alongside Dylan Minnette (Prisoners), and always interesting character actor Stephen Lang (The Nut Job) in a plot that finds the tables turned on a trio of teens out to burglarize a blind man.

Movie Review ~ Evil Dead (2013)

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The Facts:

Synopsis: Five friends head to a remote cabin, where the discovery of a Book of the Dead leads them to unwittingly summon up demons living in the nearby woods. The evil presence possesses them until only one is left to fight for survival.

Stars: Jane Levy, Shiloh Fernandez, Lou Taylor Pucci, Jessica Lucas, Elizabeth Blackmore

Director: Fede Alvarez

Rated: R

Running Length: 91 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review:  Sam Raimi’s 1981 horror classic The Evil Dead was a great example of doing a lot with very little.  With practical effects that completed the overall homemade “let’s make a movie” vibe, the film is a rough and tumble raucous romp filled with the right amount of comedy and horror.  When this ‘new vision’ of Raimi’s seminal piece was announced, it set the horror hounds on the project until Raimi (Oz The Great and Powerful, Indian Summer) and original star Bruce Campbell gave the production their valued blessing.

After seeing the ooey, gooey, and oh so bloody final product (which drops the “The” to be just Evil Dead) it’s not hard to see why Raimi and Campbell liked the film so much.  Though like the original it’s less concerned about a coherent plot, it delivers what scare junkies crave so much…blood….gallons and gallons and gallons and gallons of it.  I don’t think I’ve yet seen a horror film with quite so much of the red stuff used to such delirious effect. 

Not an outright remake but more of a re-imagining of the story, director Alvarez collaborated on the screenplay with Rodo Sayagues, later bringing in Oscar winner Diablo Cody (Juno) for some revisions.  The set-up is still the same: five friends drive deep into the woods to stay at a ramshackle cabin and meet up with hungry demons over the course of one very gory weekend.  In the 2013 version, it’s not a simple weekend getaway but a detox/intervention for Mia (Levy).  Her estranged brother David (Fernandez) and his girlfriend Natalie (Blakemore) are present as are friends Eric (Pucci) and Olivia (Lucas).  See if the first letters of their names spell anything interesting, why dontcha?

With probably ten times (at least) the budget of the original, Alvarez and company have designed a crack production design, complete with dilapidated cabin that has an ominous trapdoor to a very scary basement (it looks an awful lot like The Cabin in the Woods actually).  Wisely choosing to mostly stick with the practical effect model of the original, the special effects crew has their work cut out for them as the cast members are stabbed, shot, beaten, eaten, sliced, and diced over the 90 minute run-time. 

This is so not a film for children or the faint of heart – a member of my group gagged at one point at the shocking level of gore on display and I know that I had several moments twisting around in my seat from sinews being stretched and limbs being hacked.  The make-up design is first rate…as the film progresses and members of the quintet are possessed by evil their eyes glow, their skin cracks, and a lot of other unpleasant things befall their nubile bodies.  One unfortunate takes multiple lickings and keeps on ticking…resulting in some comical happenings the more they turn into swiss cheese.

With a film riding this heavy wave of gore, you need a cast that give themselves fully to the material and Alavarez has put together a group of young Hollwood-ites that squeal happily as they toss themselves through the razored ringer.  Levy is most impressive as the detox-ing Mia who gradually becomes a catalyst for all things demon related while Pucci takes a needle to the eye like a pro.

The barely there plot is really just a ploy to put our actors into harm’s way so try not to get too bogged down in the developments.  True, the acting isn’t bad considering the genre but if Cody was brought in to punch up the script I can only imagine what it was like before she arrived.  Alvarez is a slick filmmaker and he makes great use of lighting, a diverse orchestral score, and a constantly moving camera to keep you on the edge of your seat.  He also includes several subtle nods to the original film – I caught a few but missed some too.

Though the film has about four endings, it’s the final one that should give you every penny of your hard-earned dollar that you plunked down to see it.  I don’t want to give away any spoilers but it culminates with a moment that had the audience I saw it with cheering and applauding louder than I’ve heard in some time. 

If you’re a fan of old-school horror films where the emphasis is less on a deeply developed plot and more on just making you squirm in your seat you’ve found a film to rejoice over because it’s a rollicking ride for those that have the stomach for this kind of movie-going experience.  Make sure to stick around for well-designed end credit sequence and a nice stinger before the lights come up.