What I Watched… In March

Oh, what a time to be a film buff. The cinemas have shut, countless films with imminent releases delayed, and even projects yet to start production have been delayed even further. The Coronavirus pandemic has permeated its way through every facet of the film industry, and it has left me desperate for a trip to my local Cineworld, to buy some overpriced popcorn and watch a film I’ll likely forget about in a few days.

Before the eventual closure, I managed to squeeze in a few final movies – which all ironically were released digital almost a week later. Nonetheless, I have tried turning to the content of my blu-ray collection and the ever-expanding collection of streaming services for a source of filmic entertainment.

For your ease of consumption, I have shortly (and not-so-shortly) reviewed the series of entertainment I have found myself watching this past month.

THE INVISIBLE MAN

Inspired by the plethora of positive reviews, with some family in-tow, I sat down the new incarnation of a Universal monster film, in the form of The Invisible Man. There are no set-ups to dark universes or jam-packed monster-lore; this is a relatively simple tale, and one that is more focuses on what is happening in the confines of itself, rather than what is to come.

This singular approach has allowed The Invisible Man to become somewhat of a contained experience, and it is ridiculous to think that that in itself is quite refreshing. From its pin-drop quiet opening, which shows Cecilia nervously escaping the clutches of her controlling boyfriend, you are onboard for its approach to quiet horror. Suspense is the name of the game, and rightly so, as the alleged threat is one we can’t see with our own eyes.

This is a film that could have jumped the gun in its pacing, yet it smartly manages to slowly up the ante, keeping you engaged, leaving the later acts open for more outrageous moments. Yet it would all be for nothing if the central performance wasn’t there to reel you in, and there is no one else better to do that than Elizabeth Moss. Having never really seen Moss in anything past The Handmaid’s Tale (which she is also excellent in), her ability to stare with crazed eyes, scream with paranoia, and even nervously walk out for the post, proves that she has the acting ability to lead her own film – and there isn’t any point in The Invisible Man where you doubt that. She is front and centre and truly holds this whole film together.

While, ultimately The Invisible Man plays out similarly to many other films that you have seen before – with the central mystery never being too much of a mystery to me, and likely many others – with an excellent central performance, a paranoia-inducing style of cinematography (which pans as if following something, when nothing is there), and an absolute whopper of an blindside moment in a restaurant, The Invisible Man manages to mix up the formula enough to the point of considerable entertainment.

Hopefully, despite its cancelled cinema launch, the film sees the success it needs to prove that we don’t always need cinematic universe with multi-film narratives. Sometimes we just want to nervously stare at empty hallways for a contained couple of hours.

ONWARD

Pixar’s next big outing comes in the form of the brilliantly imagined world of elves, trolls, and winged lion/scorpion/bear creatures within a modern setting. The sparkling staffs of Wizards have been replaced with lightbulbs; wings and brooms with cars. This is a magical setting, with the magic dialled all the way back. Yet all that is about to change, when Ian Lightfoot (voiced by Tom Holland) and his big brother Barley (Chris Pratt) go on an epic and magical quest to resurrect their passed father for a single and magical day.

At its core, Onward is a relatable and deeply-emotional story, and without thinking too hard about it, was the one of the most tug-at-your-heartstrings Pixar films to date (and, no I’m not forgetting about the rubbish fire scene from Toy Story 3). All of this is amplified considerably by the palpable dynamic between the two brothers, both of whom are tormented by the shadow cast by their father who passed years before, and prior to Ian’s birth.

The quest takes the brothers on a bonding experience, as they begin to explore and accept the world of magic, and I loved about every moment of it. It truly solidifies Tom Holland in the awkward teen typecast, but until it doesn’t work for a film I really can’t complain. Onwards is a hilarious and heart-warming ride through a contemporary take on a magical kingdom and I’ll be keeping my eye out for its release, as it begs to be revisited.  

THE HUNT

The Hunt really has an identity crisis. Delayed over its “controversial” tendencies towards gun rights, American politics and a sway of other relevant subjects, the film revealed itself to have nothing more than cheap jokes to make about those issues. The film had also been advertised as a horror, action-comedy, in line with the likes of Ready or Not, yet again, from its opening minutes, comedy is very much at the forefront. The Hunt managed the insurmountable task of going against the grain, whilst simultaneously being like every other film that came before it.

Clearing the air from all the spins and marketing behind it, The Hunt has a relatively simple premise. A seemingly random selection of people find themselves left in a field with a collection of guns, and a bunch of rich elites hunting them down. The synopsis itself is enough to dissuade most that wouldn’t like it, and if that caught your fancy, then you’ll likely enjoy The Hunt.

It starts off strong, with a surprising focus, or lack thereof, when concerning the protagonist of the piece. Each time you expect one person; Boom! Oh, it’s this guy; Blast! It smartly cast a couple of actors that were recognisable enough for your attention to turn to them, and it continued past the opening ten minutes as well. Of course, if you paid enough attention to the trailers, this wouldn’t be too much of a surprise to you, but it was a nice way to open the film.

Therein after, The Hunt treads the familiar path of the sole survivor tropes. That’s not to say that it doesn’t do it well. It has a few tricks up its sleeves when considering the rules of its premise, yet this is a film you’ve likely seem a million times before.

Where it does surprise is in its eventually central performance by Betty Gilpin as Crystal. She is odd to say the least, yet it was that individuality that had me sitting up in my seat a bit or eager to find how she would react to the most recent development. The weirdness she brought to the role made her far more memorable than every other character surrounding her.

At the end of the day, The Hunt is a fun film. It has violence, humour, some great fights and good performances. A lot of the more “controversial” elements of its humour never quite landed with me – however that may be due to a lot of it being America-centric. Yet, I believe that if this film appealed to you, you will come out the other end having had some form of enjoyment from it.

REAR WINDOW

Is it terrible to admit I had never seen this film before? Sitting collecting dust for the best part of two years, Rear Window was finally picked off my shelf, and ceremoniously had the cellophane wrapper removed. Having never been a massive Hitchcock fan, and feeling vehemently disappointed by Psycho, I was skeptical to spend the evening with one of the celebrated director’s “lesser” know films. Nonetheless, I got comfortable and sat down to the peeping-tom thriller, to see if this would finally be the Hitchcock film that clicked with me.

If there was one thing to take away from Rear Window, it is Hitchcock’s excellent sense of direction, as he keeps the whole film contained within the single room of L.B Jefferies (played brilliantly by James Stewart), and does so like it’s a walk in the park. It almost seemed that most of the film was shot from the singular position, as the camera simply panning and peering into the windows unsuspecting neighbours. Yet with a stellar sense of production design, it caused no issues, as you too are in essence stuck with Jefferies’ viewpoint, as he begrudgingly awaits the recovery of a broken leg.

Musical party boys, newlyweds, lonely widows and argumentative couples leave you similarly eager to uncover the mystery that lays behind their walls, with the windows being the only concrete glimpses into their lives – each with their own sort of mini-arcs keeping you engaged and equally as curious.

Where the film began to falter for me was as its mystery began to unravel, and where red-herrings and twists were expected, what was revealed was simply the original suggestions. Any level of intrigue that was found to start, faded away in a reveal that was as predictable as it was unpredictable.

Hitchcock still managed to conclude with a climactic sequence that had me holding my breath, yet it lacked that final twist of the knife. Coupled with some distractingly terrible speed ramping and some wonky (albeit timely) projected background effects, Rear Window faded to black and out of my mind. This was a thrilling ride, but one that failed to stick the landing, and as a result will be left to gather dust once more.

PRISONERS

In a case of sheer shock to find that my girlfriend hadn’t witnessed Prisoners, Denis Villeneuve’s masterpiece (one of a few) found itself almost immediately playing. This is a film I semi-regularly revisit, and although I had seen the child-abduction mystery many times before, it was still every bit as enthralling.

After the ominous, terrifyingly real and very quiet depiction of vanishing children , Hugh Jackman’s Keller is set on the destructive path of finding his daughter. The magic of this film lies in its subtlety and level of realism. There are no crazy car chases, or sadistic killers teasing devoted detectives. Prisoners finds the drama in the fallout of missing children. How does a family respond to a tragedy like that? How does it effect the very nature of that family’s relationship? How far are you willing to go to find out the truth?

While that may sound very cliched, the powerful and raw performances show that they are questions worth exploring. Jackman and Gyllenhaal are spectacular and marry perfectly with Villeneuve’s sense of direction: Jackman entirely embodies the walking and shouting wall of anger, left bitter, desperate and dangerous by his daughter’s disappearance; Gyllenhaal on the other hand is quiet, yet unnervingly observant, with the weight of his own reputation leaving the interestingly named Detective Loki burning under the magnifying glass.

At its core however, there is still a great mystery that meanders around at its own pace. This is a long film sitting at two-and-a-half-hours, and while the film feels its length, it is never drawn out, rushed, or overstuffed. Plot points feel natural and the progressively darker path the story takes is resolutely enchanting.

It may not be for everyone, as a sombre, dark, slow-paced thriller but its seamless blend of traditionally mystery elements, infused with the maturity of Villeneuve’s direction and Roger Deakins beautiful depiction of otherwise mundane settings, leave it as one of the greats of the last ten years – and a testament to the director’s range.  

A QUIET PLACE.

A Quiet Place was an interesting experience at the cinema. I hadn’t fully grasped how quiet the film would actually be, and I was left nervously awaiting any noise in where I could rapidly stuff popcorn in my mouth before things went eerily silent again. Yet, it was an experience to be remembered as the packed cinema screen collectively held their breath.

Revisiting John Kransinki’s horror hit, proved less memorable this time around, as the jump scares had less bite, the monsters’ claws were blunt, and everything felt louder. I could argue the difference between the cinema experience and watching at home; not to mention the diminishing effects of revisiting a film (especially a horror). But, I found myself trying to recollect the upcoming events of the film, so to better gauge how much time was left.

Luckily the film keeps things relatively short, with a rough ninety-minute runtime, but in that time the approach to the scares become rather repetitive. Big noise; silence; Krasinski puts a sturdy yet fearful finger over his mouth; the threat is gone; oh no wait, it’s not gone!! Once, this pattern became apparent, the whole experience became monotonous, and any shine for A Quiet Place quietly disappears.

I did rewatch this film with the plans of viewing A Quiet Place Part 2, which after my viewing was swiftly delayed. While this may have dulled some of my anticipation for that film, I am still curious to see how they will develop the silent world as they begin to expand past the confines of their picturesque farm.

Despite my yammering on the negatives, I do believe A Quiet Place boldly experimented with the horror genre through an encapsulating concept. But upon revisiting it became clear that it was a one-trick pony, which in all fairness I feel is the case for a lot of horror films. Whether Krasinski manages to mix things up enough in the sequel remains to be seen, but I don’t plan to be watching it past my first viewing.

WHAT ABOUT TELEVISION?

The Mandalorian

Another roundup, another set of shows I started. March saw the eventual UK launch of Disney +, and along with it the start of the only show on the service I had any interest in: The Mandalorian.

This western-inspired spin-off is only 3-4 episodes in at the time of writing, but its lack of connections to the main saga is incredibly refreshing. While it has a while to go before finishing – with a frustrating weekly release, despite being long finished in American – the noticeable budget, spaghetti-western soundtrack and Hollywood level action have left a favourable impression on me, albeit one that hasn’t left me desperate for another episode.

The element that has stuck with me the most however, is the combination of direction, writing and performance, which somehow still enables the emotional intent from the titular character to shine through, despite being covered head-to-toe in super-cool Mandalorian armour.

Fingers crossed for the weeks to come, but to me The Mandalorian proves that people do want new stories within the Star Wars universe, and they don’t need them to be behemoth trilogies.

Castlevania

Despite a relatively short first season, my viewing progress of Castlevania was halted by its temporary and inconvenient removal from Netflix. Although mysteriously returned the following day, that spare night saw my attentions turn to the third season of Ozark, which I kindly reviewed on this very site, so check that out if you wish.

From my time spent with Castlevania, as someone who does not traditionally watch animated shows (and has not touched any of the videogames), I was struck by the setting, art style and tendency for violence. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again, but add a little extra bit of violence, a mature subject matter, or anything that may bump the certificate rating up, I’m going to enjoy it that bit more. Throw in a pissed-off Dracula and an army of hell-demons, I’m going to enjoy it even further.

With the third season now available on Netflix, I have my eyes set on Castlevania as the show to conquer in April. Knowing my viewing habits, and my wandering attention drawing towards anything new, I wouldn’t put money on in. It’s a nice thought at least.

The Outsider

In last month’s watchlist, The Outsider was on the cusp of its final episode and has since left me with plenty of time to ruminate on its quality. While I undoubtedly enjoyed it, and eagerly awaited each weekly episode, it has all but faded from my mind since. Even thinking to how it all wrapped up, I have to take a second to remember.

It was filled to the brim with the traditional HBO hallmarks like your high-profile performances, stellar yet blindingly short-focused cinematography, and a score that was genuinely unsettling from time to time. I can whole-heartedly say however, that while the show was in no true way disappointing, it lacked any of the explosive impact it needed to leave me begging for more – or even wondering if there will be more.

If remembered for anything, it will be for the weekly sit down with my family to watch it – something I have not done since the early days of The Walking Dead.

Published by Aaron Bayne

I’m a film and video games journalist based in Scotland. I write stuff about them on my website, talk about them on my podcasts and film videos about them for BBC The Social.

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