Movie Review – Lost River

Lost River (2014)
Written and Directed by Ryan Gosling

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In a rundown neighborhood of Detroit lives Bones, his mother Billie, and his little brother Franky. Bones is focused on stripping abandoned homes of copper so he can buy replacement engine parts for his car. The ultimate goal is to get the car running and get out of town. Billie, on the other hand, is concerned about holding onto her mother’s house, one of many decaying homes on a nearly deserted street. This involves her entering into a dark deal with a banker and taking a job at a macabre nightclub. Bones, meanwhile, has started a relationship with his next-door neighbor Rat and is attempting to avoid the vengeful wrath of Bully, a man who believes himself a sort of overlord of this neighborhood.

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Movie Review – The Rover

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The Rover (2014)
Written by Joel Edgerton & David Michôd
Directed by David Michôd

the rover

A man sits on the side of a dusty Australian road. He exits his car and enters a bar where he has to pour himself a drink. Meanwhile, a trio of men speeds down the highway having escaped some sort of shootout. The paths of these men and the nameless rover on the side of the road will cross. He will make them his mission to hunt down and put an end to. This is ten years after the collapse of society, so some pockets are attempting to retain order. The military patrols the outback. Store owners still want paper money in exchange for goods. But everyone is packing a weapon and death can come in the blink of an eye.

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Movie Review – Obvious Child

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Obvious Child (2014)
Written by Anna Bean, Karen Maine, & Gillian Robespierre
Directed by Gillian Robespierre

obvious child

Donna Stern is an amateur stand-up comedian in New York City whose life, while not the greatest of successes, is comfortable and stable. Then her boyfriend breaks up with her admitting he was cheating with one of her friends. The bookstore that provides her primary source of income announces it is closing. And then she meets Max, a young businessman who happens to stop by the bar/club where she performs stand up. After a night of drunken fun, she parts ways with Max and begins to move on with her life. The bombshell that hits Donna is that she is pregnant. Right away she knows she has to have an abortion, her life is in no way prepared for a child. However, Max keeps walking into her life, and Donna feels like she has to break this news to him.

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Movie Review – Locke

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Locke (2014)
Written & Directed by Steven Knight


Ivan Locke has just ended a day of work as a foreman on a construction site in Birmingham, England. He embarks on the drive home…or is he? Locke phones his wife while on the motorway between Birmingham and London to tell her he won’t be coming home tonight. Meanwhile, he calls another woman, Bethan who inquires about his whereabouts and how long it will be before he gets to her. He makes calls between his supervisor and a colleague in an attempt to ensure the concrete pour the next morning goes off without a hitch. Whatever Locke is doing and where ever he is going it will completely upend his life as he knew it. During this two hour drive, he attempts desperately to bridge his present with this uncertain future.

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Movie Review – Horsehead

Horsehead (2014)
Written by Romain Basset & Karim Chériguène
Directed by Romain Basset


Jessica is a college student studying the psychology of dreams due in part to her lifelong night terrors and intense nightmares. She must return to her childhood home after her mother calls with news of her grandmother’s death. Jessica and her mother have always had a strained relationship, one primary reason being the unknown identity of Jessica’s father. She has a stepfather though, who seems much more understanding, but also unaware of old family secrets. Her first night home, Jessica falls into a lucid dream where she meets the spirit of her grandmother and begins a dream odyssey to uncovering the truth behind her family.

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Movie Review – Blue Ruin

Blue Ruin (2014, dir. Jeremy Saulnier)

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Blue Ruin opens on the image of a bearded man in a vulnerable state. He’s settled in for a bath when the sound of a door disturbs him. We quickly learn he doesn’t belong in this house and is, in fact, a homeless man. Dwight Evans is living along the East Coast, foraging from dumpsters and sleeping his car. An empathic police officer who knows Dwight lets him know a man convicted of murdering people close to Dwight has been released back home in Virginia. Dwight makes the decision to travel back and get revenge. But, to the film’s enormous credit, this man is not a trained assassin and is not taking into account the disastrous series of events he is about to trigger.

Before Green Room, director Jeremy Saulnier helmed this meditation on the price of retribution. Saulnier did not have many films under his belt, but his technical prowess is already apparent here (and if you have seen Green Room). Light and shadow are used effectively to set the tone, and figures emerge from shadows in a way that adds to their menace. Saulnier shows he has an excellent relationship with editor Julia Bloch (also on Green Room). Together they construct such palpable tension and anxiety through minimalistic cutting techniques. Shots linger for just the right excruciating amount of time and cut to the perfect reaction or follow-up shot. That strength in editing connects to the pacing of the script. The story doesn’t get too heavy too earlier. The dissemination of information to the audience is also heavily controlled. The full details of the crime committed that sent Dwight into a reclusive state isn’t revealed until over halfway into the picture.

The lead performance rests on the shoulders of Macon Blair, a loyal Saulnier collaborator. Blair delivers what audiences might misconstrue as “too subtle” or “non-emotional, ” but there is a density of emotion and history in what he is doing. Dwight is a character who crossed a line of emotional exhaustion years ago. He couldn’t survive in the world if he didn’t pass through the tears and rage. So now Dwight approaches each obstacle with a cold duty. He doesn’t care if he lives or dies anymore, he only feels he has to keep living to carry on an obligation. You might not notice, but he barely speaks for the first 20 minutes of the film, about only one line in that time. So the story is being told in his face, and thankfully Blair has a face, particularly eyes that tell a story.

What hit me hard about Blue Ruin is how relevant its themes are personally and globally. At first, this seems to be a straightforward revenge film, but the revenge comes very early in the movie. I found myself shocked at what the rest of this film would be about. Then both the audience and Dwight realize his first error which compounds into more and more. This compounding of errors leads to Dwight forced into killing more people, and this breaks him down. He seeks out help only to keep himself long enough to try and remedy his errors. When the full revelation of the inciting crime comes to light, we enter a space of moral ambiguity. People Dwight believes are guilty of things may not be the ones who did it. They are not innocent by any means, but the circumstances are significantly more complicated than first revealed.

In a world where we hear the phrase “good guy with a gun” uttered often or people spending hours of their lives attempting to justify an assault on people, they disagree with politically, Blue Ruin, without being didactic, asks us to question this. Someone most definitely harmed Dwight and people he loved, there is no doubt about this. But for every act of violence, he commits he doesn’t honor the memory of the people he lost or bring any peace to himself. Violence compounds violence, as I’ve talked about before in the context of Arya Stark. The film ends with a character who makes a choice not to commit violence. They walk away as others destroy each other. This character’s future, and could end up in the same situation we find Dwight in at the start, but by choosing not to kill they are free of the curse, two families have inflicted on each other for years.

PopCult Book Club Review: March 2017 – Bird Box

Bird Box by Josh Malerman
(Ecco, 2014)


The day society collapses Malorie learns she is pregnant. No one can say why everything has fallen apart, but there are some theories. The most prevalent are that the people who have gone murderous and crazed saw something, creatures or entities, that broke their minds. By the time Malorie heads to the safe house in Detroit people are boarding up their windows and only going outside equipped with blindfolds. Humanity is slipping into darkness. Josh Malerman’s debut novel jumps between Malorie’s pregnancy in the safe house to her blind journey down a river with her equally blinded children. She’s been told that somewhere down the river lies a place where the three of them can be safe. But is something stalking them on the shore?

Bird Box gets a lot of things right. First, it builds tension incredibly well. The concept of something you see, possibly even from the corner of your eye and can drive you to a homicidal rage is terrifying. The book introduces the apocalypse in the background, just a few strange piecemeal stories out of rural Russia. Then more and more incidents are reported until everything has crumbled. It also hits Malorie personally as early on she comes across a loved one who has seen whatever is causing this mental break. Malerman’s smartly leaves the exact nature of what is going a mystery. Characters wildly speculating is much scarier than the book spelling out what is happening outside the doors of the safehouse.

By building a paranoid tension, the author also develops his characters based on how they react to their circumstances. This is an excellent way to let your readers quickly get to know Malorie and the six or so supporting figures around her. As soon as she arrives at the safe house, we are aware who these people are right away. We see who is keeping a level head and trying to come up with workable solutions. We are aware who is petrified with fear about the change. We see who is quick to anger and irritation. I’m not a huge fan of The Walking Dead television series, but I do think Bird Box treads similar ground in its focus on ensemble character interaction. Malerman juxtaposes Malorie against another pregnant survivor. The house’s de facto leader Tom is mirrored and contrasted by a couple of other characters, one of whom comes late the story and could be considered the antagonist of the novel.

There is also something to be said for how smart it is to handicap your characters with the apocalypse, and then on top of that take away their chief sense. Malorie’s blindfolded odyssey out to a local bar to gather supplies is a grippingly tense sequence. Everything takes longer to do, and these stretched out moments allow us to immerse ourselves in the scene. We know as much as Malorie knows. When she discovers the trapdoor in the floor and the subsequent stench of horror that comes from it, we receive the same sensory input she does. This particular mode of information delivery is at it’s best during the journey down the river. Malorie has spent four years adapting herself and her children to the world without sight. As their boat floats down the waters, every sound is a potential threat. A brief encounter with another human on their trip is paranoid and suspenseful. Everyone is a danger, and she begins to speculate about the creatures and if they can now mimic human speech.

Overall, Bird Box is a very breezy exciting read. I wouldn’t place it up there with the type of horror I treasure, but it is a read very worthy of your time. I guarantee it will keep you glued due to his narrative momentum. When the horrific finale in the safe house finally comes about in the last two dozen pages, you’ll not be able to stop until you find out how it concludes. When Malorie and the children are within hearing distance of the new haven, her paranoia will overtake you, and you won’t be sure if they will make it.