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IR Film Review: MONSTRUM [Shudder]

The aspect of reluctant heroes is always painted on the path of a journey but also the reasoning behind it. Mixing elements of traditional and genre is always tricky especially doing within a period element. But with Asian cinema, pre-pandemic, understanding more the intersection of global tastes, “Monstrum” takes that into effect. But the reality is that South Korea has been ahead of the curve in this way for years, especially in horror and certain action offshoots including gangster. “Monstrum” also does its best in certain aspects to interrelate comedy. The story begins with two former generals and a young daughter trying to survive on the edge of barren fields. They enjoy their life for its simplicity but the daughter wants something more. One finds that they used to serve the king but was taken away when the father saves a girl (the daughter) instead of slaughtering her. The idea provides stakes but also a moral basis within the story. Running in the background of much of it is a political struggle. While not inherently dense or particular about what is being fought over, the aspect of grief is interrelated between both an ongoing plague (very pertinent right now) and stories of a monster rampaging.

The effective aspect of the story is trying and, in many times showing, that it could be one or the other. Eventually the general and his brother are brought back in at the request of the King (who has been manipulated by his prime minter and his minions) to find out the real truth. What is interesting even though it is set in 1506, is to bring in the daughter as a sort of investigator, even within the gender confines at the time while also giving her some progression of a traditional love story to satisfy perhaps more conservative audiences. The eventual discovery of a creature (which this reviewer won’t give away too much about) has interesting interrelations to many genre films including “The Dark Crystal”. The mythology of the beast is a little slight but in terms of simple entertainment works adequately. The comedy which is subtle (more in the form of the brother) gives the film a light touch which definitely makes it overall much more palpable especially when the action gets a little more performance oriented and less story based as the melee of sorts begins though its epilogue definitely understands this. “Monstrum” is an effective hybrid while understanding it nature and budgets ad uses it its avail.

C

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: BLOOD QUANTUM [Shudder]

The aspect of the zombie movie has made its way throughout cinema history but in order for them truly to work they need to have a connection to the place that they are speaking of. “28 Days Later” used London to specific effect in its play. “The Walking Dead” goes more for sociology in its body count but the aspect of power becomes more of the trait it is known for. With Jeff Barnaby’s film “Blood Quantum”, the approach is based in the aspect of the land and its people. “Blood Quantum”, according to the production book, is the aspect of being able to gauge genetic heredity in the native population to determine rights within the reservation setting according to exterior government. In other words, it is a reflection of control, both financial and political. This is used as the basis within the story to create both the genre and the practical structure of how the zombie wave affect the people and their defense of it.

The first quarter of the story begins 3 years prior when fish and animals begin coming back to life after being killed or reaching their end which is an apt metaphor at times for the destruction of modern life. Initially what can be perceived as perhaps a spiritual mythology instead reflects in very real and basic terms. If you are fully blood, you have the chance to be immune. Anything below 50 percent is in peril. The movie doesn’t play too much on these facts but yet their prevalence keys subtly and strongly throughout the movie. The land is separated from the outsiders by a bridge which at times can grind its attackers to a pulp. The community will always help but understands the structure that needs to be maintained. Like films “I Am Legend”, “War Of The Worlds”, “Waterworld” or even “Zombieland”, the question become inside the society what begins to happen when it eats it from the inside and what survives.

In this apocalyptic situation, it offers questions. And in the current COVID-19 basis, it forces everyone to reexamine society, what it means, what family is and what it could be and sometimes isn’t . For some it is very straight forward. For others, it is a path to ruin. The story that plays very clear is the father of two sons tries not to pass on what he considers his sins to his sons who seem to be on a path of ruin. One is a hothead but has the dexterity to be something more but his rage blinds him. The other is the more sensitive and has the ability to be more yet acts reckless because he is emulating his brother. His truth s brought into focus by a responsibility that is his to take. That forms the basis of his redemption. That s not to say that the story being told is devoid or in any way lacking in its horror roots.

Taking out the zombies, and others to that point, is done with malice and in your face. One bigger dude uses a chainsaw as his weapon of choice. But it is Grandpa,, who will protect his own land at all costs, that becomes he samurai of the piece. It is him we see in the beginning living a quiet life that is thrown into ruin. He is a fisherman before fate brings him onto the battlefield. It is a mythology like others but the samurai motif is clear. While folklore and archetypes can play in the point including the aspect of betrayal, the final shot speaks to the reality of what life is. The film has many specific meanings hidden within its structure but the texture of where they lead rings true.

B

By Tim Wassberg

IR Film Review: THE INVISIBLE MAN [Universal]

The narrative progression of an IP like “The Invisible Man” can take perspective elements on the notion of existence and what it means to be alive. In approaching it in the Blumhouse model, it forces the filmmaker to find that differing approach. Leigh Whannel, known for the SAW Franchise with James Wan, seemed to have figured out something very specific when he made “Upgrade” a couple years ago which premiered at SxSW. He spoke about the difference about having one car for a car chase instead of 10. Working with less makes you approach different things creatively. While this might seem restrictive for some filmmakers who have already made their name, it is also freeing (depending on financial responsibility on who succeeds monetarily with this frugalness).

“The Invisible Man” is much better than it has any right to be but that is because of the committed nature of Elizabeth Moss and Whannel knowing how to work with cinematic perspective for much of the movie without anything really being there…but also knowing not to pull the punches when need be. Despite any genre trappings, there is an emotional resonance with Moss. She gets tossed around but these kind of damaged personas that burgeon to a vicious streak at times make her perfect, giving her that character actor edge. She made “The Kitchen” work at points because she went for it. It is not that her character has abandon, she just fully commits to it. While some might point to an element of overacting, it is a style that works primarily well in these types of films…and Moss knows it.

One crucial point in the film, Whannel does something interesting between the trailer and the actual film which acts to a point of misdirect without even adhering to the big reveal…and it hits hard in that moment to audible gasps. The set pieces feel familiar but also original which is also helped by the fact that the story is set in San Francisco and Silicon Valley yet it was shot in Australia and near Fox Studios Sydney so it has that movie feel of being real but not quite. The continuation of what “The Invisible Man” actually is, of course, reflective of the times but doesn’t make it a matter of scolding, just a state of being. Moss’ character wants to escape an abusive relationship but it is coming to terms with both the mental and physical strain that resides in how she sees herself.

When the genre elements finally kick in, that sense of identity is nicely teetering, especially in one scene after a betrayal of sorts when she is sitting on the floor with a knife in hand staring at an empty room, ruminating on the aspect of why she specifically exists in this space. It may be exposition but it rings heartfelt which makes the next scene really take the fight to a more practical level and thereby makes it more intense. Moss again is great at these points selling them wholesale. The antagonist(s) themselves are fairly thinly drawn, but that angle of the story is not so much central as is the notion of paranoia and control which is very finely detailed.

“The Invisible Man” is an interesting reverse psychology exercise into the diatribe that permeates our times. From the opening credits that tease a noir in certain respects, this approach to the Universal Monster Universe is the correct one: lower budget, using story and acting instead of overarching effects and the essence of psychology which is what made the mid budget films of yesterday so compelling, Making something dynamic is not so much the sum of its parts, but that essence of work between the lines in that what cannot be seen often is scarier than what is right in front of you.

B+

By Tim Wassberg

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