Review Roundup - Annual Thing


To conclude at least for the time being let's take a look at what offerings have been taken up or produced by Netflix this year. As a quick aside regarding those releases I've missed, The Cloverfield Paradox is a mixed bag that is probably not worth seeing and has been done better elsewhere while The Ballad of Buster Scruggs is a mixed bag that is worth checking out and could only have been made by the Joel and Ethan Cohen. There was also Mowgli, which is mostly an awkward repeat of Jon Favreau's Jungle Book until a third act twist when they remembered it was supposed to be darker. It's all over the place and is bound to be confusing or upsetting depending on the viewer. Anyway for the moment I'll call it a day and discuss some horrifying action, some horrifying horror, and some real human drama.

Timo Tjahjanto is known for being one half of The Mo Brothers with his work on films like Killers and Headshot with Kimo Stamboel. These are violent thrillers with lot of horror and action mixed together in brutal ways that lack subtlety and characterisation, but deliver on sledgehammer style thrills for those who are looking for that sort of thing. The same can be said of his latest The Night Comes for Us, which is probably his best work so far though it retains those blunt force set pieces and lacks the sort of restraint that was found in say The Raid films. It's a groin tearing head smashing affair with a lot of colourful characters, but as a narrative things are still less effective than they could have been with a bit more tact.

The plot is fairly thin as Ito (Joe Taslim) has second thoughts about being a criminal during a massacre and decides to save a child. It's about as basic as you can get. Meanwhile the organisation he works for is going through an internal power struggle and Arian (Iko Uwais) has his eye on the highest position. But like everything else there's too much going on at once which makes it feel clunky at times when it needs fluidity and nuance. Too many characters, too many locations and fights that go on for far too long. In places it feels like a comic book come to life but a lot of it just feels like yet another grim gangland thriller. With a lighter tone it would have worked as a story set in a heightened reality, and by scaling things back it could have been a tighter real life underworld action fest.

Of course it does deliver on action if that's what you're looking for. Hard edged and stomach churning action. At times it's almost hilariously overdone as sequences include so many injuries that it almost becomes a splatter movie. The line between horror and action is often blurred in Eastern cinema as fight scenes and slasher sequences alike end with a bloody punchline, but this is certainly one of the more extreme examples of this. There are a few moments of character connection and camaraderie among thieves, but when the whole thing is so exhausting these moments are few and far between. It might be worth a watch purely to see how gratuitous this kind of thing can become, but just as a martial arts film there are better examples out there. 


Gareth Evans on the other hand actually understands the way elements of horror and action can sometimes blur together, and decided to make Apostle instead of a potential third entry in The Raid series. Initially this felt like a bit of a let down, but the results proved to be worth a look. His take on otherworldly powers and rural cults is an excellent example of building up a mood and then breaking the suspense by throwing in something gruesome. It's also a great looking film that fully uses a period setting in terms of both visual style and character idiolects. The journey is a slow burn, combining the isolation of the setting with the eerie feeling that that something genuinely odd is lurking just behind the curtain.

Thomas (Dan Stevenson) is a drug addled wretch who has to be cleaned up and sent on a mission when his sister is kidnapped. Posing as a new recruit to the cult which sent out the ransom demand he soon arrives at a remote Welsh island where Malcolm (Michael Sheen) preaches to the locals about a 'goddess'. But unlike other stories about this sort of thing there's a kind of supernatural power working its magic on the place almost straight away. Its exact nature and what Malcolm is doing to earn its rewards is less clear, but there are plenty of weird and wonderful things to be unveiled as the story goes along. This is a tale about ancient entities as well as a folk horror story about lunatic converts.

The main cast are all very good but Stevenson lends the kind of ruthless nature he delivered in The Guest to a character who knows all too well what sort of things religion does to people in this time period. The bursts of sudden horror and action are brief but effective, and moments involving rural sewers and meat grinding machines stand out as being perfect examples of ratcheting tension and jolts of horror. Some subplots offer a few pacing problems in the third act which should have really been edited down, and the film is slightly too long. Sequences in which a lot of the hideous truths about the community have already been revealed could be brisker. But overall this is a successful genre swap for a director who has been sharpening his tools with each new film.


Last but not least let's also consider Alfonso Cuarón's latest film Roma. There may not be any noticeable visual effects scenes or gliding camera moments (or even music) but it's still a story told with a lot of flair in terms of cinematic style. The monochrome visuals lend the whole thing a sort of documentary feel as though the scenes depicted are snapshots of real life. Almost any scene could be used as a photograph and framed as the narrative takes us through the domestic life of a Mexican family and their maid Cleo (Yalitza Aparicio). I'd guess it's also a very personal project for the director including references to his childhood and even the Gregory Peck film Marooned which later inspired his own work.

The trials and tribulations of a middle class family in 1970s Mexico City range from a never ending chain of dog mess in the driveway (which is too narrow for their car) to marital problems between Sofia (Marina de Tavira) and absent father Antonio (Fernando Grediaga). Cleo on the other hand has boyfriend problems that soon escalate as he proves to be less than reliable. However their mundane lives are also disrupted by period activism and land ownership disputes at a farm owned by their relatives. The contrasting problems weave a tapestry of drama which makes for engrossing viewing, particularly when things jump between the trivial and the truly harrowing. Light hearted scenes in which guns used for sport and for darker moments in which bullets fly in a furniture store perfectly encapsulate the constantly evolving tone of the story.

At the core though this is a story of a character feeling alone when they are surrounded by people. Cloe uses a Mixtec language amongst Spanish speakers and she's used as a surrogate parent when her employers require it, but is scolded when it suits them. However the bleaker scenes are married with moments of real heart as she learns to find solace in the face of tragedy. It's an interesting proposal, that in dark times people will look out for each other - even when some of the problems are caused by those who are dangerously irresponsible. Some of the characters are odd eccentrics and others are despicable, but there are still those that display some actual humanity. As a period piece or just as a story about people there's a lot going on, but I guess that's what real life is like.


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