Movie Review ~ Encounter (2021)

The Facts:  

Synopsis: Two brothers embark on a journey with their father, a decorated marine trying to protect them from an alien threat. 

Stars: Riz Ahmed, Octavia Spencer, Lucian-River Mirage Chauhan, Aditya Geddada, Rory Cochrane, Janina Gavankar 

Director: Michael Pearce 

Rated: R 

Running Length: 108 minutes 

TMMM Score: (4/10) 

Review: Similar to feeling aghast when a designer on Bravo’s Project Runway sends a model down the catwalk not entirely dressed for success, there’s little I like less than seeing a film with good actors stuck in flimsy material.  You understand the desire to branch out and try for work that’s off the beaten path, different from the norm, but in that same vein it stands to reason the effort should also have point and purpose that make it worth your while.  It’s especially strenuous when the actors involved are so good that they usurp the material and almost make something of it and sadly that’s where we have to put a film like the new movie arriving on Amazon Prime, Encounter.

Starring Oscar nominee Riz Ahmed and Oscar winner Octavia Spencer, this is one of those movies harboring a twist that you sit through the whole movie wondering why it’s even being kept under wraps as long as it is.  In the spirit of the nature of this site and also out of respect for the filmmakers, I’m not going to spoil it but if you can’t spot where Encounter is headed almost from the moment Ahmed’s PTSD-suffering ex-marine starts spraying himself with a can of bug repellant to ward off the insects that burrow into your skin and change you into mindless drones…you need to get out more.

There’s an impressive opening to Encounter and for at least those opening moments I was interested to see what director Michael Pearce, who got a big jump to his burgeoning career with the wildly wonderful chiller Beast in 2017, had in store for us.  Watching a mosquito infect a human bloodstream with a creepy crawly organism absolutely made me start feeling itchy all over and so Pearce gets the audience into the appropriate mood but fails to keep us there for much longer, mostly because that’s the extent of the impressive ideas. 

Once that concept is established that’s pretty much all there is to Encounter and so we’re just following Malik Khan (Ahmed, Sound of Metal) as he “saves” his two young sons Jay (Lucian-River Chauhan) and Bobby (Aditya Geddada) from his ex-wife and her new husband who he believes have been infected by the organism. Of course, his ex and the authorities don’t see it so much as saving as child abduction. With the help of Hattie (Octavia Spencer, Thunder Force), Malik’s understanding parole officer and the one person he has reached out to, a determined lawman (Rory Cochrane, Antlers) sets out to find the three Khans before it’s too late.

The performances in Encounter are enough to recommend the movie, I think I can safely say that.  Even though the film stretches on to nearly two hours, I do feel as if the work that’s being done by Ahmed and especially the two young actors playing his boys is well-formed enough to be worthy of keeping your attention.  It’s just the flimsy, also-ran plot that might make you doze off at various points.  If you’ve seen a movie like 2016’s Midnight Special, you might be aware of what you’re in for…just on a less ambitious narrative level. 

  

31 Days to Scare ~ Antlers

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The Facts:

Synopsis: In an isolated Oregon town, a high school teacher and her police officer brother become convinced one of her students is harboring a deadly supernatural secret.

Stars: Keri Russell, Jesse Plemons, Jeremy Thomas, Graham Greene, Scott Haze, Rory Cochrane, Amy Madigan, Cody Davis

Director: Scott Cooper

Rated: R

Running Length: 99 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (8/10)

Review: I have to admit that I’m still a little anxious when I get ready to head into a movie theater.  I’m all vaxxed up, masked, and ready for the theatrical experience but my heart beats a little faster when it’s time to venture in.  And I know what it’s like for others too who go through the same range of emotions after being used to watching their movies in the comfort of their own home for so long.  There’s a period of adjustment that’s needed before we can all feel like its natural to just head to the movies at the drop of a hat (or a mask, maybe).  The first few times I was back in the theater, I found it hard to relax and be comfortable but I’m getting there.

Understanding that is helpful at the start of my review for Antlers, especially when it comes right before I tell you that seeing this one in the theaters is well worth it.  I’d been looking forward to this Guillermo del Toro-produced horror film for nearly two years by the time I finally saw it and I’m so glad that Searchlight Pictures held it back from a streaming release until now.  That way, audiences can truly focus on the ambiance and environment created by director Scott Cooper and his crew, bringing viewers into an isolated community where a ancient legend lives and grows hungrier.

It probably helped that it was a dark and stormy afternoon that I saw the film because most of the movie takes place in a wet and rainy small town in Oregon which has suffered due to a local mining company closing and the opioid epidemic running rampant within the Northwestern communities.  As the film opens, Lucas Weaver (Jeremy Thomas) is waiting for his dad Frank (Scott Haze, Venom) and a buddy to finish clearing out their makeshift meth lab set-up in an old mineshaft.  The dark and dank locale is perfect for hiding their illegal operation and turns out, for an unseen creature to stalk them in the film’s first nerve jangling sequence of suspense.

Several weeks later, Lucas is in school but looks worse for wear but isn’t all that different from a number of the vacant eyed children that Julie Meadows (Keri Russell, Austenland) teaches.  A former townie that left because of deep-rooted family trouble, she’s living in her childhood home with a police officer brother (Jesse Plemons, Game Night) and a lot of bad memories she’d just as soon forget.  In line at the store, she glances at bottles of alcohol long enough for us to understand loud and clear that screenwriters C. Henry Chaisson and Nic Antosca (who wrote the original short story) want us to be sure to note that Julie has struggled with unhealthy coping mechanisms.  Back at school, recognizing signs of abuse in the boy’s drawings and behavior, Lucas catches Julie’s eye and makes the boy her mission in rescuing him from what she thinks is mistreatment. She’ll learn it is far more dangerous. Not before a whole bunch of people die, though.

I wouldn’t dream of spoiling how the second act of Antlers develops, only to say that even if it does dip slightly into some overtly conventional territory, it never sways from being completely entertaining.  Cooper (Out of the Furnace) excels at this type of small-town filmmaking and while the cast is made up of movie stars, they all seem to fit this Oregon lifestyle in unassuming ways.  While Russell and Plemons might not be the first choice to play siblings, they work well with one another and thank heavens there are no fussy romantic entanglements for either to get involved with that would slow things down.  Thomas is the star of the show, and the rest of the cast seems to understand that, allowing themselves to blend more into the background while he impresses front and center.  It’s a bear of a role to ask a child to play but, as we’ll come to see in several movies yet to release in 2021, the kids are coming to take over Hollywood.

It’s not easy to be consistent with a mood for any length of time, especially in horror films, but there’s this sense of dread that hangs over Antlers from the start that never lets up.  Beginning with the opening lines taken from the words of an indigenous First Nations myth to the tingly epilogue, Cooper might not wrangle every idea introduced down to be completely explained by the finale, but he at least makes the film interesting throughout.  You want a return on your investment of time and travel for going to the movies and you don’t always get it…Antlers sends you home fully vested.

The Silver Bullet ~ Antlers



Synopsis
: A young teacher discovers her troubled student’s father and younger brother harbor a deadly supernatural secret. Taking the boy into her care, the teacher must fight for their survival against horrors beyond imagination.

Release Date:  TBD 2020

Thoughts: Never judge a book by it’s cover and never judge a movie by its title.  The first time I heard about a horror film coming out called Antlers, I wrote it off as another nature run amok schlock fest.

Wait though, take a look at that poster.  It’s kind of creepy and a little intriguing.  Ooo…it’s produced by Oscar-winner Guillermo del Toto (Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark)?  It’s starring Keri Russell (Dawn of the Planet of the Apes) and Jesse Plemons (Game Night), two interesting actors that seemingly make intelligent, thoughtful choices on their projects?  Hey now, you say it’s directed by Scott Cooper, the same guy that gave us Crazy Heart and Out of the Furnace and it’s being distributed by indie offshoot Fox Searchlight?  Ok, but let’s wait and see about the trailer.

(Watches trailer with its eerie imagery and scant details that give little about the plot away that hasn’t already been provided in the promotional materials.)

OK. I’m sold.

Movie Review ~ Oculus

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The Facts:

Synopsis: A woman tries to exonerate her brother, who was convicted of murder, by proving that the crime was committed by a supernatural phenomenon.

Stars: Karen Gillan, Katee Sackhoff, Brenton Thwaites, James Lafferty, Rory Cochrane, Annalise Basso, Garrett Ryan, Kate Siegel, Katie Parker, Miguel Sandoval

Director: Mike Flanagan

Rated: R

Running Length: 105 minutes

Trailer Review: Here

TMMM Score: (6.5/10)

Review: You’d be forgiven if you were to dismiss Oculus as another haunted house horror flick made on the cheap and released in theaters right about the time that audiences are clamoring for some springtime terror. Further, the trailer for Oculus sells the film as a scream fest surrounding an old mirror that has dark secrets. What Oculus isn’t, however, is your run-of-the-mill fright flick that saves its best scares for the final moments. This mirror is polished.

I’ll take a good scare any way I can get it…be it slow burn (Sinister), all out gore-fest (Cabin in the Woods), or failed attempt to cash in on a better concept (Silent House, The Apparition, etc) so I went into Oculus willing to receive it however it chose to present itself. I’ll admit at first I didn’t quite know what to make of the film as it bounced back and forth between a brother and sister exorcising some old demons and a flashback to 11 years earlier when the siblings dealt with some deadly family issues.

At the center of it all is a majestic mirror, said to be responsible for the death of close to 50 people since the 18th century and highly valuable. How a software designer (Rory Cochrane) had the cashola to purchase such a coveted antique is a plot point best filed away under “Don’t Think Too Hard” but it isn’t long before the past and present collide with some seriously spooky sequences where the line between reality and imagination gets hazy.

With an adequate amount of gore that plays second fiddle to bump in the night style scares, the film has the feeling of a sequel to The Amityville Horror (actually, an Amityville TV movie did deal with a haunted mirror now that I think about it) mixed in with dashes of fractured reality of the bloody Mirrors from 2008. Director and co-writer Mike Flanagan has thought out his film well, introducing not merely themes of post traumatic healing but of mental illness brought on by a tragedy. The film isn’t quite sophisticated enough to tie everything together but the effort is clear and purposeful.

Dealing with a small cast, the film could have been a pain to sit through had Flanagan not assembled such a strong group of actors. Karen Gillan (Guardians of the Galaxy) and Brenton Thwaites (The Giver, Maleficent) ably handle the adult siblings while Annalise Basso and Garret Ryan (Insidious: Chapter 2) are impressive handling with their heavy lifting in flashbacks. The first shot of Gillan is her fire red ponytail swinging back and forth almost as if it’s possessed and both she and Thwaites work cohesively to build a believable bond. Cochrane and Katee Sackoff (Riddick) make good use of their slightly underwritten roles.

If there are cracks in Oculus, they are of the minor variety and truth being told I’m not sure if the film will hold up on future viewings. Though the ending rises to the occasion for making the goose bumps rise on your skin, a too short wrap-up left me feeling a little cold to the whole affair. Feeling just a tad long at 105 minutes, Flanagan working as his own edtior could have benefited from having someone else edit the film that was more objective to pacing.

More spooky than terrifying, Oculus earns points for restraint and solid performances. The scares are mostly satisfying and I appreciated that Flanagan developed material that felt fresh and not your average shriek-out.

The Silver Bullet ~ Oculus

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Synopsis: A woman tries to exonerate her brother, who was convicted of murder, by proving that the crime was committed by a supernatural phenomenon.

Release Date: April 11, 2014

Thoughts: First things first…I appreciate that this is truly a teaser trailer.  We all know how much I’m in favor of the less is more approach and while a longer version of this may be released before the film comes out in April, I have to say that this first look at another low-budget horror film from wunderkind producer Jason Blum (Paranormal Activity 4, Insidious, Insidious: Chapter 2, The Purge, Lawless, Sinister, Lords of Salem) gets the job done.  That being said, these movies tend to open big (usually without advance screenings) and then sink like a stone once word of mouth makes its way around.  One can only hope that Oculus will wind up being more ambitious than the rest and strike gold not only in the box office but with critics desperate for a good scare.