Movie Review ~ Do Revenge

The Facts:

Synopsis: After a clandestine run-in, Drea (Alpha, fallen it girl) and Eleanor (beta, new alt girl) team up to go after each other’s tormentors, the scariest protagonists of all: teenage girls.
Stars: Camila Mendes, Maya Hawke, Austin Abrams, Rish Shah, Talia Ryder, Ava Capri, Jonathan Daviss, Maia Reficco, Paris Berelc, Alisha Boe, Sophie Turner
Director: Jennifer Kaytin Robinson
Rated: NR
Running Length: 118 minutes
TMMM Score: (8/10)
Review:  If you’re putting me in a locked room and asking me to scribble a list of my Top 3 favorite specialty movie genres on the wall, it would have to be these. 

1. The Shark Film 
2. The Creature in Space Film 
3. The Bitchy High School/College Film

So far this summer, I’ve had my fill of the shark film (see The Reef: Stalked and Maneater, or better yet, don’t and see JAWS if it’s still in IMAX near you), and I can watch Alien or its sequel anytime I want. I must admit that I’ve cycled through my favorite high school comedies more than a few times, knowing the beats and lines of the classics for most by heart. 

When I first heard about Do Revenge, I knew it was initially called Strangers. That could only mean one thing, like Amy Heckerling’s all-time hit Clueless, which derived inspiration from Jane Austen’s novel Emma, screenwriters Jennifer Kaytin Robinson and Celeste Ballard were borrowing from another master. The Master of Suspense, Alfred Hitchcock. Very loosely based on 1951 Strangers on a Train (even less than 1987’s Throw Momma From the Train was), this wicked little zinger is a breath of fresh air as we move into the hottest part of the summer.

It’s spring at Rose Hill prep school, and junior Drea Torres (Camila Mendes, Palm Springs) is sitting on top of the world. She has a great group of friends, the most popular boy in school is hers, she’s in a video for Teen Vogue, and her #1 pick for college (Yale) is interested. Not bad for a girl that attends school on a scholarship and is surrounded by classmates who don’t understand the sacrifices she’s made to get where she is today. She seems to have forgotten a little of that humility, but now she’s ready to party and enjoy the end of the school year. Then she makes a classic blunder…she trusts the wrong guy.

Boyfriend Max (Austin Abrams, Chemical Hearts) leaks a raunchy video she sent to him, ruining her reputation overnight, jeopardizing her collegiate future, and seriously impacting plans for a perfect senior year. Working at a tennis camp over the summer to hide from all the eyes that have seen her online video, she meets Eleanor (Maya Hawke, Fear Street: Part One – 1994), a tomboy she bonds with over swapped stories of broken trust. Eleanor is transferring to Rose Hill in the fall, and, surprise, her bully also attends. When fall rolls around, the two stay out of sight in public, but behind closed doors, the summer friendship turns into a plot to destroy the tyrants that ran their names through the mud. How far is too far when the future, and high emotions, are on the line?

Nicely harnessing an air of surreal reality, Do Revenge sits comfortably on the shelf with Heathers (a live musical version debuts on Roku this weekend) and Jawbreaker. The buttery pastel uniforms worn at school (seriously, you’ll believe anyone looks good in a whipped lavender capelet and matching beret) are in pleasant contrast with the outlandish fashion designs created by Alana Morshead. The supporting cast members all sport impressive duds, but Morshead saves the most distinctive styles for Mendes and Hawke, who show up in several jaw-dropping outfits during the film. Coupled with a slight fantasy-like school setting and outdoor locations that feel a little outside of the natural world, you have a movie set now that definitely takes place on a different planet.

Everything can look great but without a solid cast to support it, what’s the point? Directing her screenplay, Robinson (a writer for Thor: Love and Thunder) nails it across the board. Precious few adults are present (one major cameo Netflix has asked us not to spoil, even though they recently released an ad featuring them), so the film primarily rests on the shoulders of Mendes and Hawke. Each actress has individual moments to carry the movie, but I give the slight edge to Hawke for blowing me away with a character that gets more complex as the story develops. There are no spoilers, but Robinson and Ballard’s screenplay has more up its sleeve than meets the eye at the outset. Hawke looks and sounds so much like her mother, Uma Thurman, that it’s eerie.

Like another release this week, The Woman King, Do Revenge stumbles when it includes a romantic subplot that feels squeezed in rather than organically grown. It only adds to the long run time, and a wildly careening third act doesn’t help. Some may think a slight detour featuring Sophie Turner (X-Men: Dark Phoenix) is dragging things, but Turner is so ferociously funny in just two scenes that I wouldn’t lose her presence for anything. Thankfully, I think Robinson has a noble end goal with Do Revenge that passes the right message on to the viewer, and it’s a message its target audience could hear more of now. With a soundtrack that has nothing but winning needle drops, eye candy clothes that don’t quit, and leading performances that hit their target like twin lighting bolts, this is worth skipping school to watch.

Movie Review ~ Fear Street Part 1: 1994

1

The Facts:

Synopsis: A circle of teenage friends accidentally encounter the ancient evil responsible for a series of brutal murders that have plagued their town for over 300 years.

Stars: Kiana Madeira, Olivia Scott Welch, Benjamin Flores Jr., Fred Hechinger, Julia Rehwald, Jeremy Ford, Charlene Amoia, Noah Bain Garret, Ashley Zuckerman, Maya Hawke

Director: Leigh Janiak

Rated: R

Running Length: 105 minutes

TMMM Score: (7/10)

Review:  If you suffer from severe bouts of nostalgia that only a well-worn VHS copy of The Breakfast Club or a dog-eared first edition of your favorite Christopher Pike paperback can cure, you’re the target audience for a rad new trilogy of films Netflix has cooked up to make this sweltering summer just a wee bit cooler.  Inspired by the Fear Street series of novels written by R.L. Stine, the three films would each take place in a different time period, were shot back-to-back, and will be released one week apart starting with Part One, set in 1994.  Timing-wise, I’ve seen the first two but will only be reviewing Fear Street Part One: 1994 here.  Come back next week for my thoughts on Part Two and the week after that for Part Three.  If the first two chapters are any indication, this is a trilogy where the suspense builds as you go along.

The fifth Scream film is due out in 2022 but those who can’t wait quite that long will get a fun little amuse-bouche in a pre-credit sequence set in the after-hours Shadyside Mall where one B. Dalton employee has a terrifying encounter with a masked killer.  Sadly, it’s not the first such incident for Shadyside, which has a bloody history dating all the way back to 1666 when the townspeople killed Sarah Fier, believed to have been a witch.  Every few years, seemingly normal people snap and go on a rampage, leaving a trail of bodies in their wake.

While the killing doesn’t go unnoticed, it hardly registers for teen Deena (Kiana Madeira) and her friends Simon (Fred Hechninger, The Woman in the Window) and Kate (Julia Rehwald).  They’ve got their own problems to deal with.  Deena is feeling the sting of a break-up after her love interest moved to neighboring town Sunnyvale while Simon and Kate’s side-business of selling prescription drugs is constantly being threatened by exposure.   Coming face to face with her former flame, the still in the closet Sam (Olivia Scott Welch), at a sports event between the two towns leads to a prank that goes awry and stirs an evil curse from its slumber.  With the help of Deena’s brother Josh (Benjamin Flores Jr.) and more of the town’s history under their belt, the teens bond together to stop an unrelenting force and a barrage of Shadyside’s most infamous killers from finding them.

Part One is a bit of a strange beast and I think it’s almost helpful to know there are two more chapters that come after it.  Often I found myself wondering what purpose the other two movies would serve seeing that we already know what happens and even having footage of those two movies spliced in to prove it.  It’s like watching Friday the 13th and having clips from Parts II – IV cut in throughout – if we know where it’s all headed then why continue to watch?  Ah…but that’s where director Leigh Janiak and her co-screenwriters Phil Graziadei and Kyle Killen have some tricks waiting for you and, without any spoilers for this film or what’s to come, I’ll just say…keep watching. 

While that bodes well for the trilogy as a whole, it does leave Part One feeling very much as the introduction it firmly is.  I’d almost suggest waiting until Part Two is available so you can watch those back-to-back…or if you can wait then take in all three at once.  I like that Netflix is doling these out one at a time and hope they do this with future movies with similar themes but for me personally, Part One didn’t feel fully complete to me without having something to compliment it fairly quickly.  It also strains to make it past 90 minutes, with a number of conversations between Deena and Sam being stated and restated a number of times.  I know, I know.  Teen problems and all, but…there’s only so many times you can hear “I love you, but you moved.”  “I moved, but I still love you.” and not want to scream “Geography!  Get over it!”

These are also extraordinarily well-made films, with striking production values that don’t bop you over the head with period details (heck, they don’t even display any B. Dalton signage so the budget couldn’t have been THAT big) but instead focus on making things crisp and clean.  The gore is gruesome (and often unexpected) and people you may not think will get sliced get diced just when you’ve gotten comfortable.  The performances are good and, best of all, by the time it ends you’ll want to hop right into the next part…a sure sign that Fear Street Part One: 1994 is worth making a trip to.